By Chris Danou
President, Onalaska Professional Police Association
By in large, police officers in Wisconsin have been slow to embrace the concept of political action. Perhaps it is because we are so tired at the end of our shifts that we just want to return home to our families and enjoy our time off. It is hard to go from dealing with conflicts on the streets while working to dealing with the inevitable conflicts that occur when one becomes politically involved.
However, the times are changing. Around the state, police officers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to participate in the political process. I have become more politically active in the past several years for two very good reasons – my sons. In addition to being able to provide financially for them and their education, I was forced to think about the kind of state I wanted to leave them. When they become adults, I want to be able to look them in the face and tell them that, along with being a good father and provider, I fought hard for their future. Additionally, when I was elected president of my local, the Onalaska Professional Police Association, I became acutely aware of the importance of political action for our members.
Recently, our union was faced with one of its greatest challenges. The mayor and city council proposed to lay off a working police officer as a way to save money. This was an officer with a young family to support and a new baby on the way. I met individually with members of the personnel and finance committees to discuss our union’s opposition to the layoff. Additionally, I was able to unite our union in a public relations and outreach campaign that ultimately saved that officer’s job. The citizenry of Onalaska jammed the city council chambers and demanded that the position be put back into the city budget. This position could never have been saved had our union not come together to raise the public awareness of what was at stake for the city of Onalaska and the quality of public safety services in our community.
Currently, the law enforcement workforce faces a number of challenges at the state level as well. Law enforcement officers and public employees are currently under attack by certain legislators and political candidates who wish to punish us for their own failures to deal with issues like health care costs and adequately managing the state budget. There are attempts to come after our benefit packages, our ability to negotiate for pay raises, and receive back pay once an expired contract has been negotiated. Sadly, my own state senator, Ron Brown, has introduced these very measures. For example, legislation recently approved in the State Assembly – Assembly Bill 268 – would allow municipalities to deny raises to officers under the guise of state revenue caps. There are also plans to change our retirement plan from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan, resulting in substantially lower retirement benefits to retirees.
As a police officer, my job is to serve my community. While I love my career in law enforcement, I recently decided to run for the Wisconsin State Senate in District 31 to expand my service to the public. I am not someone who has spent his life preparing for a career in politics, but I decided to become a candidate because we need someone in Madison who represents the working people of western Wisconsin. Ron Brown has spent his time in our state capitol systematically opposing the interests of the working police officers who keep western Wisconsin safe.
I have spent the last seven years of my life protecting, serving, and talking with the people of western Wisconsin. Unfortunately, most of the politicians in Madison haven’t done likewise. They are more concerned with taking care of the big corporations that fund their campaigns. As a state senator, I will always remember that I work for YOU. When elected, I will fight for strong communities, jobs that pay a decent living wage, health care reform, quality public education, tax fairness, clean government, and responsible environmental stewardship.
Since becoming a police officer, I have always wanted to be known as someone you would want to go to a call with or who you would want to respond as backup. If elected to the state legislature, I hope to be the kind of state senator that officers throughout Wisconsin would recognize as their partner in Madison. Whether it’s becoming politically active in our own communities, or running for elected office ourselves, it is very important that those of us in law enforcement work together to keep this state a great place to live, work, and raise a family.