Police Chief Edward Flynn said during the first four years of the current pursuit policy both accidents and stolen car incidents steadily declined. He told commissioners at their Thursday evening meeting, he’d like more time to study what turned that decline upside down.
"I think it’s reasonable while we’re researching policies that would expand the circumstances under which we would pursue, to explore what else is going on. Why here, now is it different than Dallas or Boston or Baltimore or San Francisco," Flynn added, "I think it’s been somewhat simplistic to attribute all of these ills to that one policy when certainly there are alternative explanations."
Back in 2010 Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn tightened the force’s vehicle pursuit policy after several bystanders were killed by drivers fleeing police. The current policy directs officers to chase a vehicle if officers have evidence the driver or vehicle participated in a violent felony.
Lawmakers and the Milwaukee Police Association have been particularly vocal, saying the existing policy has fueled drug trade in the city and a culture of reckless driving.
Earlier this month, Fire and Police commissioners gave Chief Flynn two weeks to come up with a more stringent policy. The commission warned that if Flynn doesn’t comply, he could face discipline, even job termination.
Flynn hired a lawyer at his own expense and asked for a 30 day extension.
When the commission convened, only a few people stepped forward for public comment.
Jonathan Farris is no stranger to the police pursuit debate. Ten years ago his son was killed – at the age of 23 – as a bystander in a police chase near Boston, Massachusetts.
Farris urged the city to reconsider doing away with the police department’s current policy.
"Have you considered other already available options, have you considered funding the additional technology tools that are proven to safely reduce the need for more dangerous pursuits while still allowing the capture of car thieves, drug dealers and joy-riding kids," he asked.
When it came time to vote, the commission swiftly and unanimously granted Flynn an extension.
After the meeting, the police chief said having more time to study what's going on in Milwaukee, and compare it to other similar cities around the country, will avoid what could be a shallow diagnosis.
"What else is affecting the decision of people to try to cause us to chase them. It’s very much a thing now. It’s almost as though kids want to play live-action grand thief auto. There are other variables, that’s all. We’re going to do our due diligence here. I’m not going to drag my feet, I’m not making excuses… We will craft a new policy," Flynn said.
Commission chair Steven DeVougas says giving Flynn more time was the right decision.
"The board never had any animus against the chief or the department. We just take our jobs and our charge very seriously representing the citizens of Milwaukee. I think things have simmered down now and we’re in a good place," he said.
DeVougas said what he’s after is good policy. Not rushing he added, will avoid creating more problems for the city and its residents to contend with.