The Milwaukee Police Department should reconsider is pursuit policy, according to the majority of Common Council members. On Friday, the Public Safety Committee will discuss the issue – when should officers chase a car, and when should they let it go. Some lawmakers are concerned about a growing level of lawlessness on Milwaukee’s streets.
The Milwaukee Police Department has a policy of only chasing vehicles if the people inside are suspected of a violent felony or present a clear and immediate threat. Otherwise, officers work to capture the suspects by other means. Chief Edward Flynn enacted that policy a few years ago after a number of innocent people were harmed during police pursuits. While the department declined an interview for this story, Flynn spoke to WUWM about the change a couple summers ago.
“We expect criminals to behave recklessly. We expect criminals to do anything they can to flee the police no matter how minor their infraction is and to do so in a way that jeopardizes the safety of the innocent. We don’t think that way and our policy is reflective of that,” Flynn said.
According to a report the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission put together, the MPD still engaged in 306 pursuits in 2016. That was an increase of 16 percent over the previous year. Alderman Michael Murphy wonders if the change in policy is having unintended consequences – by inciting more people to try to outrun police. He wrote a letter to the Fire and Police Commission detailing his concerns.
“The issue is since there seems to be no enforcement of bad behavior it seems to be encouraging the younger people that we see based on their own fire and police report that shows young people are now driving recklessly, sometimes at 75mph,” Murphy says.
Murphy says residents hear about the problem regularly on the news.
“We now see a young population of people in our city who have absolutely no respect for the law as it relates to traffic laws. And it’s only getting worse. And as a result, that’s what you see every Monday morning mainly of hit and run accidents where people are being killed, and pedestrian accidents or other injuries,” Murphy says.
Murphy says besides wanting police to pursue more fleeing vehicles, he also supports stiffer penalties.
“Perhaps some drastic measures may have to be considered, including taking peoples cars. I hate to even consider that because that could put some people out of work very quickly and that may not be the best solution,” Murphy says.
Murphy says city leaders have been scouring the country for a model that works.
Steven DeVougas, the chairman of Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission says it’s going to begin collecting ideas, the first week of June.
“What we decided is that we are going to take this to committee, take a look at the issue and maybe take some testimony from the police department, the aldermen and any other concerned parties from the community. And let them look into what the most appropriate response,” DeVougas says.
DeVougas says the goal is to finalize a by the middle of next month.
In Kansas City, starting in June, police officers will pursue all drivers who flee traffic stops. The move reverses the policy that city adopted, just three years ago.