By Dylan Deprey
Rev. George Pumphrey stepped up to the podium. He read word-for-word the definition and guidelines of one of the oldest police oversight agencies in the country.
“I’m going to be honest; I didn’t know 80 percent of this,” Pumphrey said.
Pumphrey along with other pastors, elected officials and community members gathered to listen to the candidates selected to fill one of seven spots on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission in the second community forum on Tuesday, June 14.
The Fire and Police Commission was created to remove potential political agendas during the hiring process of police and fire chiefs in 1885. Later in 1911, the law would extend to the Commission creating overall policy for which the Chief’s day-to-day duties would have to abide by.
Today the Commission has four main duties. It sets the recruitment and testing standards for positions in the fire and police department. They overhear the appeals of officers disciplined by their chief. It also investigates and overseer the complaints of citizens. They also discipline employees for misconduct.
Basically the Commissioners lend their ears to the community to aid in the relationship between Milwaukee Police and Fire department and the neighborhoods it serves and protects.
Each Commissioner has a five-year overlapping term. This is to assure a continuum of new voices every year. This year Mayor Tom Barrett appointed candidates Nelson Soler and Angela McKenzie.
Soler was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in poverty. He explained that like Milwaukee he had experienced the violence of his community at a young age.
“When I was five years old, I saw a person get killed over a package of cigarettes,” Soler said.
He has spent his entire professional career in Milwaukee. He has worked at the Multicultural Entrepreneurship Institute, Inc. and is a board member for BizStarts Milwaukee.
He said that one of the greatest assets he would bring to the table was his negotiation skills.
“I believe strongly in collaboration, and I think they (the Commission) are getting closer to that, but we cannot afford to just talk,” Soler said.
“I never take a challenge that I am not committed to, so I’m taking this challenge head on and that I will not disappoint anybody,” Soler said.
Angela McKenzie is originally from the Bronx, NY. She works as an administrative law judge who deals with worker’s compensation cases. She said when it came to making decisions in her field it was based on weighing evidence and thoroughly examining testimonies.
She is also a mother of two children that were born and raised in Milwaukee. She said that although she is not originally from Milwaukee she wants Milwaukee safe for her children.
“My son, when we drive in the car will say ‘Hi Mr. Police man, hi Mr. Fireman,’ I want that there,” McKenzie said. “I want that type of enthusiasm for the people that come to us in the worst times of our lives.”
The candidates were asked questions that dealt with everything from accountability to their opinion on the militarization of the police department.
While the forum shed some light on the candidates and their duties, some attendees were hoping for more. Emilio DeTorre of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin (ACLU) noted that the turnout would have packed the house if the “Milwaukee 53206” premiere had not landed on the same night.
“I would hope that the candidates would have an opportunity to be better versed in what their job responsibilities will be moving forward. I think many of the questions could have been more strongly answered,” DeTorre said.
The Common Council will most likely make their decision on filling the position during the meeting on July 28.