Police must obey rules of the Hatch Act
To the editor,
Going back to 2020, it has bothered me that the Langlade County sheriff appeared on air in support of a political candidate. I thought that it was against the law for him to appear in uniform while supporting anyone running for elected office. Now that the midterm elections are in full swing, I see quite a few police officers supporting candidates in televised ads. Are they all unaware of the Hatch Act?
The Hatch Act was enacted by Congress in 1939. The purpose of the act was to create a comprehensive law regarding the political activities of government employees. This was an attempt to remove the influence of government employees from the outcome of elections.
Anyone who works for any level of the government funded in part or full by federal funds is covered by the Hatch act. This includes law enforcement programs.
So, what is with all these sheriffs appearing in political ads? It turns out that “sheriff” has undergone a bit of reclassification as of 2012. There had always been an exception in the Hatch Act for elected officials like the governor of a state and/or the mayor of a city.
Since a sheriff is elected, that position is now one that is exempted from most Hatch Act restraints. That does not mean, however, that everything that a sheriff might say in a political ad is factual or accurate information.
One of the recent ads opposing Governor Evers features several uniformed Kenosha police officers and some of their squad cars. Their participation in this ad is a violation of the Hatch act. They were not elected and therefore must refrain from political activity while representing themselves as police officers. What they had to say about the governor’s conduct during the Kenosha riots runs counter to Republican Sheriff David Beth’s view on the subject. He said the Evers’ response was “fantastic” and that “from the very first minute that we asked them (the state) sent everything we asked for.” Jim Kreuser, Kenosha County executive, stated, “In fact, the system worked exactly how it’s designed to function, and Evers answered every call and did everything he could within his powers to assist Kenosha County in its time of greatest need.”
So, what is the penalty for violating the Hatch act? “Should a complaint be received and investigated and the federal Merit Systems Protection Board finds that an employee violated the Hatch Act and that the violation warrants dismissal from employment, the employing agency must either remove the employee or forfeit a portion of its federal assistance equal to two years of the employee’s salary.” This is a direct quote from General Order 15.08, Minocqua Police Department. This order would apply to any police department in the country because, “Prohibitions of the Hatch Act are not affected by state or local laws.”
No one should be above the law. Our police should enforce and be subject to the laws of the land. Voters must use their eyes, ears and brains while wading through the flood of political ads. Exercise your duty as a citizen and vote.