Fire and Police Commission Re-Votes to Keep Milwaukee Police Chief

May 4, 2018

Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission has voted a second time to name Alfonso Morales chief of police until early 2020.

This past February, when Edward Flynn retired, the citizen panel promoted Morales from the position of captain to that of interim chief. Many people assumed Morales would remain in that role until the commission completed a search for Flynn's replacement. Then last month, the panel decided Morales should serve out Flynn's four-year term, which would have ended in 2020.

Critics said the decision may not have been proper, because the panel didn't give enough notice about the vote. So the Fire and Police Commission took up Morales' appointment again on Thursday.

The panel’s chair, Steven DeVougas, says care and consideration went into the commission’s choice the first time. But he says it was important to hold a re-vote, to demonstrate that the commission has the community in mind. “We’re going to keep doing the work and keep trying to be as transparent as we can possibly can be, and also assist Chief Morales to be successful, and just demand more accountability from the officers while informing the community is how this whole thing works,” he says.

DeVougas says Morales is qualified for the position of chief. He says Morales inherited tough challenges when Edward Flynn retired, but has re-established relationships with different departments, the commission and the community.

Alexander Ayala agrees. He’s president of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association. Ayala was at City Hall Thursday as the Fire and Police Commission re-affirmed Morales as chief. Ayala says he approves of Morales’ safety initiatives, including collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department on reckless driving. “There are a lot of things that were out there lingering that when Flynn was here, were not getting done. I think that Morales has the fortitude to actually get those done,” he says.

Community activist Mary Watkins also was on hand. She says she’s less optimistic that Morales can bring about great change to the department – especially when it comes to building trust with people in the black community. “This is a systemic issue. It goes back decades here," she says. "The police-community relations have been tense. It goes beyond just Chief Morales into a culture that exists within the police department of violence and racism. And it’s something that we’re going to have a tall order combating.”

Watkins also expressed concern about the process for choosing the executive director of the Fire and Police Commission. MaryNell Regan recently resigned, and Mayor Tom Barrett announced he’d fill the post with Lakeisha Butler, director of the city’s intergovernmental relations division.

“There’s not a range of candidates from which the public can talk to, interact with, choose from," says Watkins. "It just seems like someone gets hand-picked from Mayor Barrett’s circle and we’re supposed to just accept that as is. Most importantly we need a public hearing. We need to have the public involved in this. I believe there’s too much rubber-stamping and nepotism going on, and that has to change.”

But Fire and Police Commission chairman DeVougas says the public had a chance to weigh in on previous executive director Regan’s appointment. “I’m assuming the same process will be required of Ms. Butler as well,” he says. DeVougas says that the commission intends to listen to the community as much as possible as it conducts its work.

The Fire and Police Commission makes hiring and disciplinary decisions, conducts independent investigations, and in some cases, sets policy.

Police Chief Morales says he also promises to consider residents’ input as he settles into his new role. “We have to continue to work on the public trust and continue to get our officers to connect to the community. They’re the front line. It’s important that they communicate with the public and that the public starts trusting our officers.”