Members of the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission will meet later this week to discuss the process of appointing an acting chief of police. That meeting comes a few days after current Police Chief Edward Flynn announced his retirement.
Flynn has been the chief of police for the past decade and will step down six weeks from now.
One person who has some informed thoughts about Flynn’s tenure, the coming appointment of an acting chief, and the search for a new chief of police is Anne E. Schwartz.
Schwartz served as Flynn’s spokeswoman for five years as well as for the previous chief, Nannette Hegerty. After leaving the MPD, she worked for a couple of years as a spokeswoman for the state’s Department and now advises law enforcement agencies around the world on communication strategies.
Schwartz says her initial reaction to the news of Flynn's retirement was optimism. "We're going to have a complete change in law enforcement leadership in southeastern Wisconsin." In additional to a new police chief, there will be a new sheriff, a new US Marshal, and a new US Attorney for the eastern district.
"I think it'll be good to have a chief of police who wants to cooperate with all of the different entities that need to be together, that need to work together to solve the issues that we're facing in the City of Milwaukee and in Southeastern Wisconsin," Schwartz says.
There has not been a great amount of teamwork between the police chief and the sheriff in the past, but, Scwartz says, it is essential for both new positions to work together for the benefit of the entire county.
Before Schwartz was the spokeswoman for Milwaukee police chiefs, she was a Milwaukee television reporter. She says that former Milwaukee Police Chief Hegerty saw the value of having a civilian and reporter in the role of spokeswoman. "What (Hegerty) appreciated and then what Flynn kept me on to do was to bring that perspective of the reporters. Because telling the story is not just a recitation of the facts, telling the story means creating some of that content."
Schwartz says you must also treat the agency like a brand. "We need the same thing in the public sector that private sector companies need. We need people to trust us, we need people to have faith in our product (violence prevention and cops), we need people to have a positive feeling about those things, so that's why we tell the good stories," she explains. "All of those things are key in storytelling, but we also have to get out and tell the bad stories. We have to educate, and I would say that's the number one piece."
Schwartz's position was eliminated five years ago, and she admits she has been disappointed with the lack of storytelling under Flynn over the past few years - especially post-Ferguson.
"We have to tell our story, even when we don't want to. It's not just the police that are learning that, it's also prosecutors...the community won't stand for that anymore," says Schwartz.
She notes that Chief Flynn “did a great job of sharing Milwaukee’s successes and just sharing Milwaukee in general with the national policing circles. Milwaukee has been mentioned a lot more because of Chief Flynn when it comes to discussions about what are some best practices in policing nationwide.”
He also brought in new technological resources for the new police chief to build upon, but Schwartz says that "we could do better" going forward in regard to the police department's relationship with hospitals, schools, and other agencies.
"I think that is a key to building those relationships and to sharing information and to building trust going forward both internally and externally," she says.
The most important trait for next police chief, Schwartz says, is to be a good communicator. "Flynn could hold a room like nobody I’ve ever seen, and that is the first step to getting out there to tell your story. Because you can have a great story, you have to figure out who’s going to get out there and tell it for you.”
However, Scwartz notes that it will take effort to build back trust and confidence in the MPD. “Certainly the Fire and Police Commission are going to look at who is the person in the interim who can start us on that path, and who is the person that can come and take the helm of the Milwaukee Police Department and bring it back to being one of the marquee agencies in this country.”