What does Milwaukee want in its next chief?

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, morale men­tioned as needs

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Ash­ley Luth­ern Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

If his­tory is any in­di­ca­tion, Milwaukee will choose to hire its next po­lice chief from in­side the ranks.

Ten years ago, Chief Ed­ward Flynn be­came only the sec­ond chief ap­pointed from out­side the de­part­ment in mod­ern his­tory.

In­ter­views with lo­cal lead­ers and res­i­dents show a pref­er­ence for some­one with deep knowl­edge of the de­part­ment and city.

Those in­ter­viewed stressed the need for the next chief to be trans­par­ent, re­spon­sive and will­ing to lis­ten and work

with res­i­dents.

“It is im­por­tant for the next chief to have a deep un­der­stand­ing of the his­tory of the city of Milwaukee,” said Steven DeVougas, chair­man of the Milwaukee Fire and Po­lice Com­mis­sion, which has fi­nal hir­ing au­thor­ity.

The com­mis­sion, a seven-mem­ber civil­ian over­sight board, will ap­point an act­ing chief by Flynn’s last day on Feb. 16. Act­ing can­di­dates of­ten have an ad­van­tage when ap­ply­ing for per­ma­nent po­si­tions be­cause they pro­vide an ex­am­ple of their lead­er­ship, how­ever short.

Mayor Tom Bar­rett praised Flynn, say­ing he wants the next chief to build on his progress mod­ern­iz­ing the de­part­ment.

“I also want to see a po­lice chief who’s com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions,” Bar­rett said.

Com­mon Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Ashanti Hamil­ton said he wants a chief who can move for­ward with re­forms.

“I’m look­ing for some­one that will be com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing to build com­mu­nity-re­la­tions,” he said.

By state law, the com­mis­sion hires the po­lice chief. In years past, ob­servers have said it’s the mayor’s de facto pick be­cause board mem­bers are ap­pointed by the mayor and con­firmed by Com­mon Coun­cil.

DeVougas flatly dis­puted the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

“This is a new com­mis­sion with new mem­bers,” he said. “I hope that our track record re­cently has shown that we are an in­de­pen­dent board who takes our civic duty and charge very, very se­ri­ously.”

In gen­eral, a na­tional po­lice chief search typ­i­cally takes three to four months, said Chuck Wexler, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Re­search Fo­rum.

Chiefs of large agen­cies such as Milwaukee need to see the “big pic­tures,” work well within govern­ment, have good com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and must be prag­matic, he said.

Flynn in­vested in his com­mand staff, send­ing them to na­tional polic­ing con­fer­ences and giv­ing them op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn best prac­tices, said Wexler, who has known Flynn for 30 years.

“I would be sur­prised if Milwaukee went out­side to se­lect the next po­lice chief,” he said.


For res­i­dents, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key. They want to know what’s go­ing on in the neigh­bor­hoods and how po­lice are re­spond­ing — and they ex­pect the chief to set that tone.

“If there’s not go­ing to be good com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the two, I think we’ll con­tinue to see the dis­con­nect be­tween the res­i­dents and the po­lice as far as solv­ing crimes and some of the is­sues in the com­mu­nity,” said Sis­ter Pa­tri­cia Rogers, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Do­mini­can Cen­ter.

The cen­ter is an an­chor in Amani, a north side neigh­bor­hood where po­lice have used fed­eral grants to bol­ster com­mu­nity polic­ing.

But those grant-funded ef­forts have been chal­lenged by turnover — the dis­trict cap­tain has changed about ev­ery two years be­cause of pro­mo­tions — and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Rogers said.

Pat Mueller, who lives in the Martin Drive Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­a­tion near Wash­ing­ton Park, agreed that com­mu­ni­ca­tion was vi­tal. She praised Flynn for his lead­er­ship.

“The po­lice chief is one of the most im­por­tant po­si­tions in the city of Milwaukee and re­ally af­fects the qual­ity of life for ev­ery­one,” she said.

Ray­mond Dun­can, who lives in the same neigh­bor­hood, said the next chief should be in­vested in the city for the long term.

“That’s the kind of per­son that would need to be with us, not just as a step­ping­stone to an­other city,” Dun­can said.

Steve O’Con­nell, a res­i­dent in Grass­land Manor who re­cently has pushed for more traf­fic en­force­ment, wants a chief who is re­cep­tive to neigh­bors’ con­cerns.

“You can look at all the dots on a map, but you have neigh­bors that live in these neigh­bor­hoods who re­ally have their fin­ger on the pulse,” he said.

Of­fi­cer morale

The next chief will need not only to work with res­i­dents but also re­gain the con­fi­dence of the rank and file.

“It’s a tough bal­anc­ing test we’ll have to work out,” Com­mis­sioner Maris­abel Cabr­era said.

One place to look for in­sight: The Milwaukee Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion, the union that rep­re­sents about 1,600 rank-and­file of­fi­cers and con­vened a no-con­fi­dence vote against Flynn three years ago. The vote was prompted by Flynn’s de­ci­sion to fire an of­fi­cer in the wake of a fa­tal po­lice shooting.

The union’s pres­i­dent, Michael Criv­ello, said the next chief needs to bring an open mind, to en­gage with the com­mu­nity and to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of morale in the de­part­ment.

“The chief should dis­play hu­mil­ity, dig­nity of char­ac­ter and con­fi­dence in per­sonal per­for­mance and de­ci­sion,” he said.

Trans­parency is vi­tal for of­fi­cers, as well as the pub­lic, said Sgt. Sheronda Grant, pres­i­dent of the League of Martin, an African-Amer­i­can po­lice as­so­ci­a­tion.

“We need some­thing different than what we have had,” Grant said. “We need a chief who is hon­est and who leads with in­tegrity. If not, the de­part­ment and city will fail.”

Not about pol­i­tics

Ad­vo­cacy groups called for the next chief to move for­ward with find­ings of a stalled fed­eral anal­y­sis of the Milwaukee Po­lice De­part­ment and fo­cus on com­mu­nity-based, prob­lem-ori­ented polic­ing.

“That type of polic­ing the­ory gives more au­ton­omy to di­rect line law en­force­ment,” said Fred Royal, pres­i­dent of the NAACP Milwaukee branch.

“They have the abil­ity to look at prob­lems and build re­la­tions in the com­mu­nity in­stead of just ar­rest­ing peo­ple and is­su­ing tickets,” he said.

Not only that, but the next chief should have the “in­ter­per­sonal skills” to fos­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion to make that pol­icy strat­egy a re­al­ity, said Dar­ryl Morin of the League of United Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens.

“You can have the best ideas and the best plan, but if you’re not able to garner the re­spect of those you’re lead­ing or those in the com­mu­nity, you won’t meet with suc­cess,” Morin said.

Above all, the next chief should lead by ex­am­ple and “meet peo­ple where they are,” said Nate Hamil­ton, who pushed for changes in the de­part­ment af­ter his men­tally ill brother, Don­tre, was shot and killed by a po­lice of­fi­cer.

“We’re look­ing for a chief that says our job is not just to go out and fight crime but be true pub­lic ser­vants, pre­vent crime and ed­u­cate peo­ple about the process of law,” he said.

Hamil­ton’s mother, Maria Hamil­ton, called for the next chief to work closely with res­i­dents.

“It shouldn’t be about pol­i­tics, it should be about the com­mu­nity,” she said.


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