GREEN BAY – Green Bay police officers hand out tickets for breaking the law all the time. But now one of Green Bay’s finest is accused of forcing a motorist to break the law by taking away his driver’s license.
“I need my driver’s license to legally drive home. I’m supposed to have a license on me,” explained Chris Develice of Fond du Lac.
Develice and his family were leaving the Packers playoff game at Lambeau Field in January. Green Bay police were directing traffic at the intersection of Lombardi and Ridge. Develice was supposed to turn onto Lombardi, but thought he could go straight. He was stopped by Green Bay Officer Kevin Kempf for failing to obey an officer.
The $93 citation was issued by mail because Kempf didn’t write out a ticket at the scene. Instead he took Develice’s license and sent him on his way, despite Develice’s concern he needed his license to legally drive.
What if he were to be stopped again? Develice asked Kempf what he should do if another officer were to stop him and want to see his license.
“Show him a credit card,” Develice said he was told, followed by, “get the hell out of here,” as the officer walked away.
That exchange prompted a complaint against the officer. But taking the driver’s license raises some legal issues that had FOX 11 Investigates contacting the Green Bay Police Department, and police chief Tom Molitor.
“Is it typical policy in the department for an officer to take a license from a motorist, for what ever reason, and mail it back to them?” FOX 11 Investigates reporter asked Molitor.
“It’s not covered in a policy and, frankly, not sure you can cover every mutation or permutation of the different things that could happen on a call,” said Molitor.
But the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles does have a policy. The DMV state statute mandates “every licensee shall have his or her license document in his or her immediate possession at all times when operating a motor vehicle.”
Ashwaubenon Public Safety handles traffic on the other side of Lambeau Field. Lt. Jody Crocker sent FOX 11 Investigates an email stating, “I can’t think of a reason our officers would take someone’s DL (driver’s license) and then let them go without it. It certainly wouldn’t be within our policy.”
Wisconsin State Patrol handles traffic on the highways. Troopers say they too would not take a license, unless it was surrendered as bond to insure the ticket was paid. But in the meantime that ticket would serve as a driver’s license.
Molitor trusts his officer made the best decision at the time.
Molitor indicated Kempf said his pen would not write because of the cold weather that January night. That’s why he chose to take the driver’s license and mail it back with the citation.
But instead of taking the driver’s license, officers have cell phones and could take a picture of the license to record the necessary information. Or on cold nights officers could use pencils to fill out a citation. Or the officer in this case could have gone to the squad car parked nearby to get another pen. All options posed to Molitor by FOX 11 Investigates.
“I’m sure he could have done those things and I don’t know why he wouldn’t have,” said Molitor. “I can tell you I don’t know that I would have taken the guy’s license. But I don’t know if my pen didn’t write, that certainly would be something. Now you know exactly who it is.”
By taking the driver’s license, the officer has the added responsibility of getting the license back to the driver.
And more than three months later, Develice’s driver’s license and the citation have never arrived in the mail. Police officials suggest it got lost in the mail, but the chief confirms it was mailed.
Develice filed a complaint with the Green Bay Police Department, complaining not only about having his license taken but also the officer’s conduct.
“He was just over the top. Screaming, yelling, swore at us. It was disturbing,” said Develice.
Others in Develice’s car back up those claims. Molitor says Officer Kempf was doing what he was trained to do.
“He’s loud, using a commanding voice, and I appreciate Mr Develice didn’t appreciate the fact he was being hollered at but that certainly is one of the things we teach officers in a command presence. Get the person’s attention,” explained Molitor.
While that approach won’t change, Molitor indicates the issue involving the driver’s license has been discussed.
“I would certainly discourage somebody from taking people’s licenses, I would certainly discourage it,” said Molitor.
Develice paid his citation last month after he was found guilty in municipal court. The mayor’s office apologized for the incident. And the police department, based on Develice’s complaint, conducted an internal investigation, sending a five sentence letter to Develice stating, “…based on the totality of the circumstances and my investigation, I did not find a violation of Green Bay Police Department policy or procedure.”
It should be noted the complaint response, unlike the ticket and driver’s license, was sent “certified mail” to ensure delivery.