Chief Flynn Reflects on His Tenure with the Milwaukee Police Department

Feb 7, 2018

Ahead of his retirement, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn sat down with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich for a wide-ranging discussion about his time in office, the issues confronting Milwaukee today, and the challenges that will face the next Chief of Police.

Flynn’s tenure has been an eventful one. Violent crime has fallen, risen, and fallen again in the last decade. There have been several high-profile officer-involved shootings that have strained the relationship between some members of the community and members of the force.

"You've gotta be willing to risk the displeasure of political actors."

Flynn has also taken some stances and actions that have put him at odds with the rank and file in his department. He believes that ability to go against the grain is a necessity for the job. 

"You’ve gotta be willing to risk the displeasure of political actors," he explains. "I’ve never been afraid to do that. And the way of running a police department is oriented towards the solving of problems, not the validating of ideological templates."

Flynn says he realized early in his career that police officers are not in a position to fix everything, but there are still some on-going problems he wishes he was able to address as chief of police.  

"I can literally go to a committee meeting at City Hall in the morning and get berated for being ineffective in the fight against crime... and in the afternoon or evening, be berated by another committee because we're engaged in racial profiling."

Flynn has faced scrutiny during the last decade over his dealings with the city's African-American community, both from community members and political leaders. He says he is often faced with two opposing conversations about the same situations. 

"I can literally go to a committee meeting at City Hall in the morning and get berated for being ineffective in the fight against crime and being too soft on crime; and in the afternoon or evening, be berated by another committee because we're engaged in racial profiling and we have unconscious bias," he explains. 

He believes that the root cause of crime in the Milwaukee-area is "poverty and its many symptoms," but he says he's had issues getting people to have nuanced discussions on how to address these issues. 

Flynn says, "My frustration as a civic leader is my inability to get this community to engage in adult conversation about the intersection of poverty, race, and crime. Nobody wants to talk about that. People want to point fingers and yell at the top of their lungs, and that's very frustrating." 

Chief Flynn retires later this month and the Fire and Police Commission is holding a closed door session with the finalists Thursday evening. Michael Brunson, Assistant Chief James Harpole, and Captain Alfonso Morales will take questions from the public in a forum afterward.