GREEN BAY – The Wisconsin State Statute is clear when it comes to drivers behind the wheel of a car, those drivers must have a driver’s license on them.
Now some Northeast Wisconsin legislators are speaking out on a Green Bay police procedure that puts some drivers in conflict with the law. Officers have been known on occasion to take a driver’s license and mail it back to the owner with a citation.
Green Bay police confiscated the driver’s license of Chris Develice of Fond du Lac for not following traffic directions when leaving a playoff game Lambeau Field.
The officer told Develice he would put the license and citation in the mail. Develice objected but says the officer wouldn’t listen.
“I need my driver’s license to legally drive home. I’m supposed to have a license on me,” explained Develice.
That’s what the Department of Motor Vehicles requires…”every licensee shall have his or her license document in his or her immediate possession at all times when operating a motor vehicle.”
Green Bay Police Chief Tom Molitor told FOX11 Investigates reporter Mark Leland the officer’s pen wouldn’t work and he couldn’t write out a citation at the time. He supports his officer’s decision.
“You need to take care of your business in a business-like manner. And his idea of that was to take this gentleman’s driver’s license and issue him a citation later and mail both of them back to him,” said Molitor.
But a driver’s license is a person’s identity. You not only need it to drive, but to rent a car, board a plane, even check into a hotel. And like many people, instead of signing the back of his credit card, Develice writes “ask to see identification.”
“I was leaving for the Bahamas the next week on a cruise I needed my identification,” said Develice, who filed a complaint with Green Bay police.
Develice’s identification apparently got lost in the mail. He was forced to get a replacement driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I don’t know how to explain it. If Mr. Develice wants us to pay for that license I have no issue with that. We had something to do with it missing,” said Molitor.
The missing driver’s license raises another issue. And it has lawmakers asking questions.
“So where’s the driver’s license?” asked State Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah. “How about identity theft. How about somebody has that driver’s license now who is not entitled to a driver’s license.”
Ellis says taking a license violates state law. The office of State Senator Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, agrees.
Leland asked Tim Lakin, Gudex’s chief of staff in his Madison office, whether the legislature needs to make a change in the law to prevent officers from taking away someone’s driver’s license.
“We haven’t heard this is something going on all over the state,” said Lakin. “But it’s something we’re looking into and if we need to clarify it through a state law, we’re looking at doing that.”
Lakin hopes Green Bay changes its policy on its own.
At this point Molitor has said he would not encourage the practice of taking someone’s driver’s license to mail back with a citation, but he stopped short of ruling it out.