What does Milwaukee want in its next chief?
Communication, morale mentioned as needs
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
“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.
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.