Snitch Houses Take from Communities to Expand the Role of Police

“Shhhh… don’t tell” Taylor playfully whispers to her co-conspirator.

This article is part four of a series on legislation to create snitch houses, also known as “COP houses” across Wisconsin. 

While advocating for snitch houses, senator Taylor made backroom deals with the republican establishment. She says she’s looking for community houses that provide wrap-around services, but what’s actually happening is police are taking control of resources and services, while expanding their role in society. 

In early May, SB124 and AB258 were amended to remove the appropriation of grant funding, expand eligibility requirements to include smaller cities, and add a few usage specifications. Kelda Roys was the sole vote against this amendment in the senate committee, but she ultimately ended up voting in favor of the bill. During the May 18 assembly committee hearing, Mark Spreitzer asked the senators, “why [they] took the money out of the bill […] is it going to be a two year thing, or ongoing?

Taylor responded, “Shhhh.. Don’t tell nobody,” while leaning toward Wanggaard, laughing, and putting her finger in front of her mouth. Wanggaard chortled, “okay, we’re not going to tell […] We would like to see the program continue.” Taylor then explained, “if the bill has finances in it, while the budget is going on, it ends up not getting done […] the politics of the budget. Originally it was a one time hit […] shh don’t tell nobody, but I’m really excited that it’s going to be two now, and the goal is y’know, forever.”

It sounds like they worked with the crooked goons at the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) to take the grant appropriation out of this bill and put it into the state Department of [joke removed] (DOJ) budget. So, the funds are no longer limited to $600,000 and one year. We’ll have to wait for JFC to take up DOJ funding to hear the punch line of how much snitch houses are going to cost taxpayers. 

The JFC is gutting the proposed state budget, claiming Wisconsin can’t afford healthcare or education for low income people. They have refused badger care expansion despite huge federal incentives, and are jeopardizing federal education recovery support funding because they want to short education’s budget proportion further than allowed under the recovery act. There is no lack of funds; Wisconsin has an unexpected budget surplus. There’s tons of federal covid-19 recovery money available as well. Nevertheless, republicans seem hellbent on tightening purse strings to please some dogmatic free market ideologues and the richest people in the state. Of course, when it comes to police, we know those tightwad bootlickers will suddenly become plenty generous. 

JFC Co-Chair Mark Born, trying to do some math while jeopardizing education funds.

In addition to expanding funding, Wanggaard’s amendment also conceals it. Taking grant money out may have helped snitch houses win unanimous support from democrats in the senate. In response to complaints about his vote, Chris Larson’s office (d-Milwaukee) highlighted the change, saying: “you will be happy to hear that there is no extra funding included in this bill, merely a better usage of current funds available.” It sounds like Larson isn’t in on Taylor and Wanggaard’s little secret, or at least he doesn’t want us to know he is. 

Resources beyond the budget 

More importantly, it seems “current funds available” includes more than taxpayer budget money. Snitch houses aren’t satisfied with government money, they’re also coming after broader community resources. When representative Cindi Duchow (r-Delafield) asked about expenses, Van Wanggaard replied: “how it works is we purchase a house, get habitat for humanity involved to rehab it […] the electricity and stuff like that comes out of dollars that the community puts into, [a foundation] it’s called ‘the outpost’.”

This time, Taylor explained: “one of the reasons they created the foundation part […] they had to create a separate entity because they couldn’t really take some of the donations that were going to come in to help with the cop house. For example, Home Depot might be willing to donate, or Habitat for Humanity. They created a separate entity that’s outside of government to take those donations.”

She’s referring to laws about police departments from taking outright bribes from people or businesses. According to this story of  Racine cop houses, “city attorneys balked at the unprecedented idea of a police department owning a house” and Racine PD instead began running money through a non-profit, like a shell corporation. The Outpost is one of these corporations, it’s sole mission is “to provide support for community policing activities,” and it’s mostly run by one family, all relatives of Richard Polzin, the former police chief who established the first snitch house. The amount of The Outpost funnels to police varies wildly year to year, from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

One of the major donors to Racine snitch houses is SC Johnson. Initially they donated $25,000 to start the 6th street snitch house in 1993. Later they gave $350,000, funding  the Mount Pleasant house. They’ve given regularly, including last year after the Thelma Orr snitch house was torched by protesters. They’ve even expanded, donating to help police create a snitch house on Chicago’s south side. We haven’t found any suggestion of direct bribery or quid-pro-quo, but it’s hard to believe that Racine cops don’t recognize what this corporation has done for them.

Predatory.

Also, SC Johnson either believes, or wants us to believe that what they’re doing is about supporting low income people in struggling communities. Their philanthropy page foregrounds social services, education, and environmental sustainability, looking deeper you discover they actually mean economic development via buying houses for cops. When a company as big as SC Johnson grants hundreds of thousands of dollars to a non-profit, other foundations and donors tend to take notice and follow suit. If snitch houses didn’t exist, these resources likely would go directly to helping people. Instead, they’re absorbed by Racine’s best funded, most violent and least popular institution: the police.

Senator Taylor frequently and enthusiastically embraced police control of community resources. She stated: “the purpose of the COP house is long term stabilizing […] Improving quality of life, helping people to problem solve, reducing crime, but more important, consolidating resources and providing programming.” Later, she said: “other resources come from other places […] to the hub,” and she elaborated on what wraparound resource center might mean: “the police department can have a classroom, a computer lab, they can do arts and crafts, help with homework, […] students [from Carthage College] come and work in the COP house, they volunteer in the COP house.”

Shyelle Smith, from Young Moms of Madison, an organization actually providing resources and support to communities, testified. She spoke up against the consolidation of needed resources under police control. “There does need to be a resource community center in these neighborhoods. There needs to be people that are responding to the needs of the community and the people. Those people should not be police officers. The history that police have in neighborhoods of color are not good at all. They are terrorists. They are seen as terrorists in our neighborhoods. They are not to be trusted.” 

“Unburden” the the police 

There was a massive protest movement across Wisconsin and amerika last year. Senator Taylor and many other politicians who voted in favor of this police expansion were there. They took the people’s mic and spoke to gain credibility with the outpouring of people. It’s unlikely they’ve forgotten, which means they consciously betrayed us.

Let’s review: the violence of last summer’s rebellion shocked amerika into a deeper consideration of the systemic role of police. Some of the activists who doused Ferguson’s flames back in 2014 tried to impose their tired reformist demands onto the protest with an “8 can’t wait” list, but that co-optation was quickly and effectively responded to by abolitionists. “Defund the police” became the lasting widespread demand. Of course liberals and law school academics immediately went to work softening the rhetoric and muddying the waters. 

They produced a dizzying array of confusing bullshit. Anyone who was in the streets at the end of May and the start of June 2020 knows what the score is. At that time, the protests were uncontrolled. They had the largest impact because they presented a real threat that police resources and capacity may get exhausted, if not torched. In Milwaukee, conflict didn’t reach the kinds of peaks that it did elsewhere, but even here, you could clearly hear the people’s demand. From youngsters sitting on top of cars shouting, to Lil Boosie blasting from the stereo at full volume, to people throwing bottles at the armored police vehicles, singing along, we were all demanding it, loud and clear: “fuck the police!”

Say it with me…

Once the fires went out, the storefronts were secured, and rebels shifted from street fighting to the legal defense of those who got captured, “fuck the police” was refined, mainstreamed and defanged. The meekest, most inoffensive version became the idea that police have been “burdened” with too many tasks that are outside of their scope of expertise. Taking things off the cops plate is the easiest way for politicians to appease some portion of the protest movement. 

When questioning Wanggaard about his “fund the police” bill, rep Baldeh brought up this multitude of narratives about defunding, but landed on this, the most basic one: “my understanding of it is, that if the police is doing anything that is not fundamentally within their job descriptions, that should come out of the police […] communities of color want to reduce interaction with police.” Wanggaard replied by talking about all the people who praised and appreciated him when he used to walk the beat as a street cop. He, like most cops, doesn’t seem to understand that, by carrying a gun and a badge which gives him the authority to kill with impunity, his mere presence is a threat. Some people defend themselves by avoiding him, others by humoring or flattering him. What he ends up experiencing from others is either negative encounters with suspects he can write off as “thugs” or “bad actors” or positive encounters with people, many of whom are deferring, flattering, or respectful out of fear. This makes him, and all cops, the most unreliable storytellers of the communities they interact with. 

We don’t expect Wanggaard to unlearn 30 years of false impressions, but other Wisconsin politicians also can’t even meet the minimum standard Baldeh described. When they all voting for snitch houses, every senator moved away from this, the weakest vision to come out of the year of rebellion and re-evaluation. 

Senator Taylor has gone the furthest. She celebrated the many varied ways a snitch house might expand the role of police. “I’m hoping the house is going to be used by neighborhood association for meetings,” she said, “by probation agents instead of having people go to their office […] that when someone has to have a meeting with their elected, they have a meeting at the cop house […] when they have a cookout in the neighborhood they have it at the cop house.” 

When rep Conley compared the snitch house to a School Resource Officer (SRO) “for neighborhoods”, Wanggaard replied, “yes, very similar.” Taylor, likely remembering pushback against SROs by Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) was more hesitant, “wellll… SROs  are slightly different. The School Resource Officer […] they are not providing resources in the same way. The guidance counselor and other people are doing that piece. This is a different coordination effort.” She’s suggesting that, unlike SROs, cops in snitch houses should also do the work of guidance counselors and teacher aids. 

To hear the senators tell it, the police don’t feel burdened at all. “You’d think officers don’t want to have that kind of thing,” Wanggaard said, “but they love it because they have the ability to control the outcome of so many issues […] so the officer’s mental health is better too.” Taylor added, “if an officer only goes to a community when somebody calls and people only have a negative experience, that’s all they have. If they have an opportunity to plant a garden, solve a problem with a house […] attend a community meeting, it creates another experience.” 

Is there anything senator Taylor doesn’t want the police taking on? Gardening, home repair, later she added: “you’ll have resource officers, I’d love to see counselors, AODA (alcohol and drug abuse) classes, it’s as robust as a community’s vision is.” 

Senator Taylor seems to know she’s betraying the people. She said, “I am aware that opposition has been raised by the ‘don’t fund the police anymore’ movement. I get it. […] I adamantly disagree with them.” Later she said “part of the problem is we’re having the ‘no police’ conversation in the COP house conversation.” Yes. We are talking about defunding the police. Liberals would prefer that we talk about unburdening the police of unnecessary roles. Meanwhile, snitch houses actively work to shovel more resources into police hands and more roles into their mandate. There is nothing wrong with having those conversations together, because it is absolutely the same conversation. 

Organizers are starting to move against the insulting imitation of police reform coming through the Wisconsin legislature. Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) held a day of action on Thursday May 27. One of these slap-in-the-face bills increases reporting on no-knock warrants, which will bring us back to the core problem with snitch houses. Rather than banning no knock warrants, as rep LaKeisha Meyers (d-Milwaukee) already proposed, this bill merely increases the study of their use. At the press conference, ACLU organizer Tomas Clauson responded, “the data is in, Breonna Taylor is not alive today, the data is in.” 

Local data is also already available. In 2019, police served a no-knock warrant based on a snitch’s claim that Jordan Paul Fricke was selling marijuana; Fricke defended himself against what he perceived to be a home invasion. One of the attacking cops died, and Fricke was railroaded by DA John Chisholm’s office and sentenced to death by incarceration. In truth, even a ban on no knock warrants is inadequate. There isn’t a real difference between no-knocks and their alternative. We will not be safe in our homes until police have no ability to enter without permission under any circumstance.

In addition to the tragic stories of Breonna Taylor and Jordan Fricke, more routine data is also available, it is also condemns the practice. Milwaukee activist Paul Mozina files record requests and testifies at almost every Fire and Police Commission hearing. On May 8, he posted some of his findings about warrants on the ACLU facebook page. In the last six months of 2020, Milwaukee police conducted 70 no-knock warrants, which targeted: “67 Black men, 4 hispanic men, 3 Black women, 2 white men, 2 white women, and 1 Native American man.” Almost every no-knock warrant was based on “confidential informant” testimony—snitching.  

We return to our first, most pressing concern with this legislation. Police gaining community trust and controlling resources means police recruiting confidential informants. That’s why we call them snitch houses. Any resources given to police will be used to turn neighbors against each other, target Black people, and do violence.

Wanggaard very nearly spelled this out explicitly during his testimony: “the focus is developing that strategy of people sharing information […] and now you start bringing in resources […] Most people get in trouble with the police driving without a license or driving revoked, and once you get a whole list of things on your driving record […] to negotiate something where you’ve got a lengthy record so you’re not continuously getting arrested, that was the focus of our traffic guys. We worked out of each of these houses helping people resolve those issues. It made it a lot easier when you could walk in the door, and say ‘lookit, this is Billy, and this is his issue’ and they are talking to the person at DOT that can say, ‘okay this is what you need to do’ and they get a game plan on how to get their license straightened away. We help them gap that bridge [sic], so it becomes a centerpoint for law enforcement trust and confidence.” 

Sounds like, if you share information with the police, they’ll help you access resources or straighten out your driver’s license. If you don’t, they’ll pull you over, harass and arrest you, continuously. That’s not building trust, it’s widespread coercion, but a cop like Van Wanggaard, who has spent his whole life being deferred to and respected by people who fear his badge and his gun cannot even tell the difference. 

Wanggaard and Taylor repeatedly spoke about how those of us who want to defund the police live in a fantasy world. Between Taylor’s goofy stats and Wanggaards stories where he fails to recognize the fear and distrust behind those who treat him with kindness and respect, it’s clear they are the ones living a fantasy. The terrible thing is, they’re trying to impose this fantasy unto us all. 

No one will not stop them unless we demand it. Before 10 am Wednesday June 2, contact the democrats on this committee. After Wednesday, contact your assembly representative and demand they vote against AB258. If you want us to share your words on social media, forward a copy to abolishmke [at] protonmail [dot] com. If you don’t have time to write something, just send them a link to our articles. They’ll get the picture.

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