By Karen Stokes
More than 100 residents, police, and elected officials attended a town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society to contribute to a discussion on the selection of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) Chief of Police.
Current Chief of Police, Edward Flynn, 69, announced his retirement earlier this month. His retirement is set for Feb. 16.
“This is a historic moment,” said Fred Royal, NAACP Milwaukee president. “I don’t know if you understand the impact of what’s going on here tonight. The Fire and Police Commission are exercising their statutory authority in asking for our input in selecting our next chief of police.”
Concerns of trust, community relations and race relations were major topics of discussion.
“Bring back the trust and a good leader for the community and the MPD,” said panelist MPD Detective, Alexander Ayala.
“The next police chief should be someone trusted by community and internal staff,” echoed and panelist retired MPD Captain, Regina Howard. “We need a police chief that listens, shows respect and treats people with dignity.”
The Town Hall Meeting was hosted by the Join the Community Coalition for Quality Policing (CC4QPC) and LISC Milwaukee and moderated by Royal and LISC Milwaukee Executive Director, Donsia Strong Hill.
Ayala and Howard were joined on the panel by Michael Crivello, President, Milwaukee Police Association; Marisabel Cabrera, Commissioner, Fire and Police Commission and Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YMCA Southeast Wisconsin.
“We need a leader that can mediate between the community and the department,” said Smith. “We want a chief who lives in the city, someone from the community.”
“When their family lives in the city, they are more committed,” Howard said. When asked what was the first thing the new chief should tackle, Crivello replied, “The new chief has to identify our successes and find ways to build on those, at the same time see where we have failed. The last Chief came to us and quickly began to slash portions of our department, building off of his experimental process which actually caused this city great harm.”
Racism in the city was a topic that surfaced several times during the meeting. A question on how should the new chief defend minorities against racism in the department was asked and Smith responded.
“The first thing I have to say is to acknowledge that racism is a problem, is a start. We can’t continue to act as if what has happened in our community is not a result of systemic oppression and institutional racism,” said Smith. “Milwaukee is the third worst city for Black Americans in the country. If you’re not going to see that is a problem, you’re not going to get a solution.”
The process for the interim chief candidates is for internal members to apply. Interviews will be conducted this week. Some questions from the town hall will be included in the interview.
There will be a public hearing on Feb. 8th at City Hall to give the public an opportunity to ask questions to the finalist.
“We will be here to observe how they interact with the public and how they respond to their questions,” Cabrera said.
The Fire and Police Commission will appoint the interim chief Feb. 15. The commission is looking to appoint a permanent replacement for police chief later this year.