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Police chief, judges meet after bond argument

Police Chief, Judges Meet at Council

LA CROSSE, WI (WKBT) - Tensions between the La Crosse Police department and the La Crosse County judges continue this week.

Last month, the police department called the judges too lenient when it came to setting bonds for alleged criminals. Chief Ron Tischer issued a statement after a drug dealer and a stalker were both arrested twice within a week, saying in part, "Too often our department spends weeks or months developing a case, making a great arrest of a drug dealer, and they are back out on the street within 24 hours."

In his first interview after the statement was released, Tischer told News 8, "Whether it's perception or reality, I think everybody thinks we have a problem here in the city, so, not only the city, but the whole area on 'we're not tough enough on criminals.' From the Police Department standpoint we're not going to let this die."

The judges responded the next day with an open letter to La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat, noting that "the purpose of bail…. is to ensure appearance in court [...] it is not the purpose of bail to punish someone before a case has been heard."

Wednesday, both parties attended the county's Criminal Justice Management Council - but during the 90-minute meeting, neither party spoke to each other at all, nor was a new solution was discussed. Instead, committee members talked about a potential fix that's already in place.

District Attorney Tim Gruenke led the meeting discussion, and talked about how focusing on a more uniform procedure for setting bail would bring all law enforcement officials onto the same page.

He argued that set of rules, known as a "risk assessment tool," would make the bail process more objective.

"The idea is to bring everyone together - district attorneys, judges, police, probationary officers - so we all understand what we're doing, and we understand the other people's role in the system," he said.

Tischer declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.

Mayor Tim Kabat also attended the meeting, and said afterward he wasn't sure the police chief's concerns were answered fully.

"I think the bigger question about raising the issue of how sentencing and all of that fits into our neighborhood efforts, that wasn't really addressed today," he said. "That's going to need more dialogue, and it's going to take some more time."

Gruenke argued he thought the conversation adequately addressed the police chief's concerns.

"I think it's directly on point," he said. "I think his concerns are valid that there's some frustration in the community about what's going on in our system, and I think we need to be better in our system to explain to people, are we doing good, what is working."

Judge Elliott Levine said the meeting was a step in the right direction.

"We all have the same basic goal," Levine said. "It's just trying to figure out how we can understand how to work with each other in this."

No official action was taken at the meeting. Members of the Criminal Justice council are still researching a way to help implement that checklist more uniformly.

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