From the Office of the Chief
Public Commentary Ref. Oscar J. Wells Traffic Stop
This open letter to the public was prepared in response to a recent online post by Oscar James Wells regarding alleged misconduct (in the form of biased policing) against a member of the Racine Police Department. Following a thorough internal review of the facts and circumstances involved in this case (conducted by the Office of Professional Standards at the request of Mr. Wells), the findings of this internal matter are being released to the public in the interest of promoting organizational transparency. Equally important, in releasing the details of this internal review to the public, media outlets and Internet sources that have given any measure of credibility to the misinformation posted by Mr. Wells, shall have the opportunity to correct the record. It is important that all previously circulated misinformation be corrected, which will pave the way for the restoration of the character and professionalism of the officer wrongly accused in this case. It is also important to restore any lost public trust this inflammatory posting may have caused.
On Wednesday June 17, 2015 at 8:32am, Mr. Wells was the subject of a lawfully initiated traffic stop conducted in the City of Racine. Pursuant to this stop, Wells was issued a traffic citation for an equipment violation (failure to attach front license plate). A small portion of the final minutes of the traffic stop was recorded by Mr. Wells (via cell phone) and subsequently posted online. Within this video clip, Wells states he was asked if he had auto insurance, but he was not allowed to look for the insurance documentation. The allegation that Wells was not allowed to look for verification documents was quickly disproved by video evidence made available via RPD in-squad video recording data.
After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances involved in this case, and after in-depth analysis the squad car video captured during this traffic stop, the allegations made by Mr. Wells were found to be completely baseless.
As confirmed via squad car video, the demeanor of the officer involved in this traffic stop was professional and courteous throughout this encounter. After introducing herself and announcing the probable cause for this stop, the officer requested that Mr. Wells produce his drivers license and proof of insurance. Wells experienced difficultly locating either of the requested documents. During this stop, the officer allowed Mr. Wells to search for the requested items in the glove compartment, visor area and center console. As Mr. Wells directed his attention to the rear seat area of the vehicle, Wells was directed to stop the search, as this information could be verified through alternative methods.
It should be noted that, in addition to the initial time Mr. Wells was allowed to search for the requested documents, he was afforded an extended period of search time (approximately 12 minutes) during the time the officer returned to her vehicle to verify Wells’ drivers license status and to draft the referenced citation.
During the internal review into this matter (initiated at the request of Mr. Wells), it was determined that Wells had no valid insurance policy in place at the time of the traffic stop. The internal review further revealed that, in August of 2014, Wells was involved in a traffic matter in Milwaukee County, at which time he received a citation for operating a motor vehicle without insurance. Mr. Wells subsequently secured auto insurance; however, this policy had expired and was not in effect at the time of the most recent traffic stop. It is now clear that Mr. Wells was not in position to provide proof of insurance, as policy was not current.
In response Wells’ assertion that he was stopped on the basis of his race, an internal audit was conducted on all traffic stops conducted on the date Wells was stopped. The internal audit related no racial disparity in those stopped for traffic violations, as individuals of a balanced range of ethnic backgrounds were stopped and cited.
With respect to the traffic stop involving Mr. Wells, his conduct during this stop (in refusal to provide his fingerprint for identification purposes as requested), could have resulted in an additional charge for obstructing. The officer however elected to use discretion in not advancing this charge, which could have resulted in an in-custody arrest.
In initially electing to cite Mr. Wells for his failure to show proof of insurance, the officer in effect afforded Mr. Wells the benefit of the doubt, making the assumption that he in fact had a valid insurance policy in place. We now know this was not the case. Had Mr. Wells accepted the initial citation, he would have been exposed to a maximum fine of $10. It was not until Mr. Wells became argumentative, protesting the insurance-related citation that the decision was made to issue the alternate citation.
After a thorough review of the facts in this case, the video evidence clearly disproves the false allegations that remain online as of this time. However, the adverse impact of having the character and personal integrity of individual police officers attacked online is not as easily remedied.
This unfounded attack against any single member of our profession is in effect, an attack against the entire profession. Inaccurate and inflammatory online posts of this nature collectively contribute to the anti-police climate that leads to poor community relationships in some communities, and worse yet, the execution of police officers. While we enjoy great police community relations locally, the same cannot be said for many departments across the nation. The false narrative advanced by the inaccurate video posted by Mr. Wells does a disservice to the service and sacrifice of the men and women who risk their lives daily to enhance public safety.
In speaking with Mr. Wells directly regarding this matter, and advising him of the adverse impact of his actions, he stated that, in posting this video, it was not his intent that this matter be portrayed in the manner that has played out online. Mr. Wells however maintained his position that his was stopped as a result of bias, and a public apology was not warranted on his part.
The overall objective of this communication is to set the record straight, and to restore any lost or damaged credibility suffered by the officer involved in this traffic stop. In light of the facts as determined after a thorough review, all inaccurate online posts relating to this matter should be corrected or removed outright.
Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude to the many citizens who continue to support the department and our community policing philosophy and vision.