In a room full of mostly police officers, lawyers and judges, Wednesday’s roundtable discussion with Wisconsin’s top law enforcement official focused on social services.
During a stop at the Walworth County Courthouse in Elkhorn, Attorney General Brad Schimel started off talking about drugs, but he didn’t ask about drug raids or wiretaps. He wanted to know about child protective services.
Schimel heard often from Liz Aldred and Carlo Nevicosi of the Walworth County Department of Health & Human Services.
The county has seen more children removed from homes because of drugs and alcohol, Aldred said, although not to the same extent as other counties.
“But they are significant,” she said. “We have longer removals for those kids at times, more kids placed, not just out of homes, but out of county—sometimes even out of state.”
Aldred said a lot of state legislation is aimed at the opioid crisis, but it “misses the boat” on methamphetamine and alcohol epidemics.
She said grant funding is available to help medication-assisted treatment or residential treatment, “but we’re not talking about community-based treatment.”
“When we take people out and change their environment, they don’t get better,” Aldred said. “They come back, and they relapse. So we have to be able to provide more. And those resources aren’t necessarily available.”
During a discussion of health insurance coverage of treatment, one man asked about eliminating benefits for drug offenders.
“How about getting rid of all the benefits as a deterrent to getting on the crap to begin with?” the man asked Schimel. “You do the drugs. You get arrested for that stuff. You lose the benefits. We seem to keep giving and giving and giving, and they keep violating. And what’s the punishment?”
But Schimel said losing benefits wouldn’t deter addicts who use a drug they know could kill them, such as heroin.
Prevention efforts will lead to financial savings down the road, Schimel said.
Schimel expressed concern about the impact on law enforcement 15 years from now if communities don’t focus on prevention and treatment today.
Aldred described one proactive program through the municipal courts that Schimel said he had not heard of elsewhere.
Aldred said juveniles who wind up in municipal courts—whether it’s for a speeding ticket or truancy—can be screened for mental health and substance abuse. It has helped county services connect to families earlier, she said.
“Utilizing those brief interventions, connecting early, has shown some really amazing successes,” she said. “Doing more of that in communities is going to eventually be able to stem the tide.”
The roundtable often focused on the mental health of civilians, but Schimel ended the event with a word of caution to public servants.
He recalled a time when he would come home from his job as Waukesha County’s district attorney and not speak to anyone for an hour. He wanted to shield them from what he dealt with on the job.
Law enforcement officers need to protect their own mental health, Schimel said.
“We lose more than three times as many law enforcement officers in Wisconsin to suicide than we do to duty-related deaths,” he said. “That’s not acceptable.”
Schimel encouraged officers who are worried about co-workers to talk to them or link them to available resources, including those through the state Department of Justice.
“We owe it to each other to make sure we all get through this, not just physically healthy but emotionally, psychologically healthy at the end of a career,” Schimel said, “so we don’t leave with our middle finger in the air. We leave with pride at having served our community well.”
Schimel talks to The Gazette
Walworth County law enforcement has uncovered a number of one-pot meth cooks in recent years. However, officials have said the county is beginning to see cartel-manufactured meth.
In an interview with The Gazette, Schimel said imported cartel meth speeds up the addiction process and makes users’ behavior less predictable and more violent. Schimel said cartel meth is much more pure than locally made meth.
“If methamphetamine gets a foothold here, we haven’t seen anything yet, compared to opiates,” he said.
Schimel said that in counties that see more imported meth, officer-involved fatal shootings are more likely to involve victims who are high on meth.
“Six officers can’t talk that person into not having a fight right now,” he said.
In other news, Schimel said he had not yet seen a lawsuit filed Wednesday against him and others, alleging the state has not refunded money that was deemed unconstitutionally taken from some defendants for DNA surcharges.
On guns and school safety, Schimel said he favors allowing school districts to choose what is best for themselves.
Gov. Scott Walker has spoken to teachers about the matter, but Schimel said Walker has not found many teachers who want to carry guns.
“And that’s fine. No one would ever force a teacher to do that. Whether there are some who would want to or not, I don’t know,” Schimel said. “My suggestion was just that I think local control is better.”
If a district chooses to allow teachers to arm themselves, Schimel said he wants to make sure they get “very, very high-level training.” He said the Department of Justice could offer it.