Milwaukee Community Influences Interim Police Chief Choice

Feb 2, 2018

Milwaukee’s search for an interim police chief is on.

With just a few weeks before Chief Edward Flynn retires, the Fire and Police Commission has started interviews. Meanwhile city officials are expressing what they want in a chief.

Throughout Edward Flynn's 10 years in office, his supporters defended his approach to tracking and fighting crime.

When Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced Flynn's upcoming retirement, he said: “Ten years is an eternity as a police chief in a major American city. As the chief indicated, it simply doesn't happen anymore. But it happened here, because he's professional, he's innovative, and he cares about the residents of this community."

However, critics like Jamaal Smith believe Flynn has been out of touch with the community. Smith is the Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager at YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Jamaal Smith (R) shares audience sentiments that a new chief should be transparent with the community as much as they can.
Credit Teran Powell

“We need a leader that is focusing on not only on building for the community, but building for law enforcement. Someone who’s focused on the care for the community as well as the care for law enforcement,” he says.

Smith and other community leaders spoke at a discussion this week at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. The subject was what people want to see in the interim police chief.

The NAACP's Fred Royal says he also has hopes for Flynn's replacement.

Royal wants someone who's an active part of the community. “Me as a member of the Community Coalition for Quality Policing, I am more interested in the type of policing philosophy that the individual brings to the job. A willingness to have a two-way dialogue with the community to resolve potential criminogenic behavior versus just placing police theories in place that are counter-productive to police community relations.”

The panelists during the discussion of the new chief (L-R) Police Union President Mike Crivello, President of the Milwaukee chapter of National Latino Peace Officers Association Alex Ayala, member of the Milwaukee Retired Police Association Regina Howard, Fire & Police Commission board member Marisabel Cabrera, and Jamaal Smith.
Credit Teran Powell

Some other community activists and elected officials at the event said they want the next chief to be transparent about police investigations -- to the fullest extent possible. They also want candidates for the job to explain how they'd handle issues such as racism and discrimination in the police department.

One alderman who's eager to see how the interim chief settles into the new position is Tony Zielinski.

He's complained that Flynn refused to respond to phone calls or emails from Common Council members and their constituents.

That concern was one of the factors that led to aldermen issuing a vote of "no confidence" in Flynn, and the council's push to have a say in whether police chiefs should be fired.

Zielinski says he hopes aldermen can have a more positive dialogue with the person who takes Flynn's place. “I think that the next police chief needs to be a chief of the 21st century, and by that I mean that the police chief has to understand that he’s not just beholden to the mayor. He has to understand that he needs to work with everybody in the community.”

The chief must also understand the value of working with faith-based and community organizations, he said.

The community will have a chance to meet the three internal candidates for interim chief at a hearing next week. The candidates are Assistant Chief of Police James Harpole, Police Captain Alfonso Morales, and Inspector of Police Michael Brunson. 

The citizen panel, the Fire and Police Commission, will have the final say on who gets the job.

Meanwhile, the commission members are discussing the process for finding a longer-term replacement for Flynn. Police chiefs in Milwaukee typically serve one or more four-year terms.