Draft of a Department of Justice report finds that the MPD could do a better job of effectively engaging with the community
By Evan Casey
“MPD does not have a department-wide strategic plan for community policing.” These words, are hidden deep in a 243 page report from the Department of Justice. They are simple, concise and clear, but they speak volumes to many Milwaukee citizens, community organizers and politicians.
They say what many Milwaukeeans have been saying for years. What these words say is this; the Milwaukee Police Department isn’t always concerned about engaging with the community to solve problems within the city of Milwaukee. One Milwaukee citizen voicing her concern is Markasa Tucker, Director of the African – American Roundtable in Milwaukee. “They think that what they are doing is community policing, but clearly it’s not,” says Tucker.
These words are in the middle of a draft of a collaborative reform initiative, a voluntary step the Milwaukee Police Department and its Chief Ed Flynn decided to take in order to heighten the level of trust between the community and the police. However, when the draft report was leaked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in August, it had the opposite effect.
The Department of Justice found many problems with the Milwaukee Police Department, but quite possibly the biggest problem the DOJ found was the fact that the MPD had put little emphasis on community policing.
The Milwaukee Police Department’s Efforts
The Department of Justice defines community policing as being “a philosophy of policing that prioritizes partnerships and problem solving techniques,” according to the report. Although the Milwaukee Police Department does have community policing initiatives in place, the DOJ does not believe that they are enough, as the report states, “most of these efforts tend to focus on providing what could be considered one-off efforts.”
Sgt. Timothy Gauerke, the Public Information Officer for the MPD, did cite over 26 events that took place all across the city in 2017 that the Department has been involved in, saying “some of MPD’s community policing efforts are planned events, while others are spontaneous and unscheduled.” One of these events was District Seven’s second annual Easter Egg Hunt, an event where police officers were paired with children in Sherman Park to find Easter eggs hidden across a park.
Another aspect to the department’s community policing efforts was first proposed to the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission in 1990 by 10th District Alderman Michael Murphy. The initiative is called “Police on Bikes,” and it began as an effort to make police officers more approachable.
“The many officers who participate in this program are pretty good on following the principles of community policing,” said Murphy. “I think they (MPD) need to expand that program even more, as it has been very successful.”
The DOJ report does mention bike patrols as being a positive community effort, saying “bike patrols have been found to make more than twice as many contacts as officers in patrol vehicles.”
Along with bike patrols and events, the Milwaukee Police Department also has a community liaison officer in each of their seven districts. These officers often attend community events, and can be reached directly by accessing the Milwaukee Police Department’s website.
However, to many Milwaukee leaders and community organizers, these efforts are not enough.
Fred Royal is one of these individuals. Royal is President of the NAACP Milwaukee Branch, and a member of the Community Coalition for Quality Policing in Milwaukee, a diverse group of over 20 groups in Milwaukee that is attempting to increase cooperation between police and community members. Royal says that community policing starts with proper training.
“We need to put in a structure that allows officers to do policing based on their solutions to problems,” said Royal. “If you don’t incentivize that, officers are going to continue to do what they do, and that’s write tickets and arrest people.”
Nate Gilliam, the lead organizer and founder of The People’s Progressive Organizing Committee, a community organization that is attempting to improve the conditions of “oppressed citizens” in Milwaukee, says community policing means realizing what problems exist in the community and working to fix those problems.
“Community policing is about community understanding the problems that exist and how to solve them,” said Gilliam. “As a group, we want to work with people in the community to understand how policies affect their lives so that disparities are addressed.”
Chief Flynn’s Efforts
Police Chief Ed Flynn first ordered the collaborative reform of his department in November of 2015. Flynn said in a 2015 letter to the Department of Justice, “I look forward to working with you and your offices to establish mutual goals for this initiative, including comprehensive assessments of key areas like use of force, training, discipline and accountability, community perspectives, recruitment and hiring, and the handling of mass demonstrations and protests, among others.”
Since Flynn became Police Chief in 2008, crime numbers have gone down. End of the year crime numbers released by the Milwaukee Police Department from 2016 showed a decrease in total crimes from 2015.
However, although crime may be down across the city, the report said that the department can do a better job. “MPD’s attention to crime data has distracted the department from the primary tenet of modern policing: trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve,” the report said.
Mayoral candidate and 14th District Alderman Tony Zielinski believes that Flynn’s focus on data driven policing is harming his reputation. “We need a Police Chief of the 21st century,” Zielinski said. “We need a chief that understands that he needs to work with people throughout the entire community. When we get a police chief that cares about that is when we will start to see improvement.”
Royal also believes that Flynn’s focus on data policing has become a problem. He says that the department is not looking at the bigger picture of what the crime data is saying.
“If you aren’t looking at the effectiveness of how you are doing this model,” Royal says, “or not looking at contacts with police in a systemic way, that’s telling that you don’t have that type of department wide strategy in place.”
Alan Schultz is a State Board member with Ex- Prisoners Organizing. EXPO is an organization that is working to end mass incarnation. They said Chief Flynn has been focusing too much of his efforts on looking at stats and numbers. Schultz has also been involved with the Safe Zone Initiative in Milwaukee. This is a collection of individuals working to stop gun violence in some of Milwaukee’s most crime ridden neighborhoods. “Everything Flynn is doing is reactive,” says Schultz. “He’s not looking at his data from a matter that is proactive.”
However, Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission chair member Steven DeVougas has said that data driven policing might be positive for the city. The MFPC is a civilian oversight commission that works with the Police Department to address problems within the city. “They have done a good job of using data driven policing and having a strategy,” said DeVougas. “When we have suggested things, they usually have done well about responding.”
More Police or Less Police?
One critique many local leaders have towards the MPD is the high number of officers in certain neighborhoods. This critique was mirrored in the report that gave an example of police officers lining up outside a local high school right before summer break. The report said, “An inadvertent outcome of the roll call might have been a message to students observing from the high school’s windows that MPD officers anticipated addressing any problems that the students might create during summer break.”
Dr. Thomas Lifvendahl has written multiple recommendation reports for the Milwaukee Police Department as a consultant over the years. He is currently a partner and field researcher for the National Institute of Ethics. He has noticed that Chief Flynn was placing more police officers in neighborhoods in response to crime.
“In response to increased crime the Chief is fielding a targeted, intensive approach to reduction,” said Lifvendahl. “MPD intends to place a new emphasis on neighborhood patrolling using a group of dedicated officers.”
However, not all community leaders believe that more officers will solve the problem of crime or lead to better community policing.
Gilliam says that the city of Milwaukee should decrease the budget for the MPD. “Less and less police officers and more community understanding of the problems that exist and how to solve them is what we need,” said Gilliam.
Markasa Tucker agrees. She believes it is the community’s job to encourage the police to step up community efforts. “More cops is not the answer,” says Tucker. “We believe we can make a community effort to show what community policing needs to look like.”
One of the recommendations of the Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a document published in May of 2015 that focuses on using new methods to positively impact public safety, says that police officers should be focused on training over ticketing.
“Law enforcement agencies should evaluate their patrol deployment practices to allow sufficient time for patrol officers to participate in problem solving and community engagement activities,” the report, published by the Department of Justice, says.
The DOJ report followed suit, saying, “Hiring, training, evaluating, and promoting officers based on their ability and track record in community engagement— not just traditional measures of policing such as arrests, tickets, or tactical skills—is an equally important component of the successful infusion of community policing throughout an organization.”
However, these methods might be one of the biggest reasons that crime numbers are down across the city of Milwaukee.
The Racine Example
The city of Racine, located just 23 miles from the city of Milwaukee’s City Hall, has been a city that has used multiple methods to engage with the community in order to impact crime numbers. One example of these methods are COP Houses. COP Houses, or Community Oriented Policing Houses, were first placed in Racine in the 1990’s, and have been shown to decrease crime and heighten police visibility within a community. Perhaps there is no better example than the COP House located at 2437 Anthony Lane in Racine. The number of aggravated assaults dropped by 94 percent after just four years of the house being placed in that neighborhood in 2010.
There are currently six COP Houses that operate across Racine, and each house has had a significant impact on crime numbers in their respective neighborhoods. Racine Police Chief Art Howell has continued to expand COP Houses across Racine, saying “It is indeed a pleasure to witness the growing interest in the COP model as applied locally.”
The Milwaukee Police Department just decided to put COP Houses in Milwaukee, as the Milwaukee Common Council approved the idea last September, after both Alderman Murphy and State Representative Lena Taylor brought forth the idea to the city years ago.
“I tried to instate it 9 years ago,” said Murphy. “I did bring it to the attention of the chief at that time, and he was not interested in participating.”
Chief Flynn, in a letter to the Racine Police Chief in 2008, said COP Houses, “do not fit into my strategic plan of crime reduction for the City of Milwaukee.”
MFPC chair member Steven DeVougas noted that the Department was not interested in doing the COP Houses initially.
“They have changed their position,” said DeVougas, speaking about the MPD. “They weren’t open to the idea, but now the Alderman’s want to do it.”
The Next Step
“MPD should develop a department –wide community policing strategy.” These words, hidden deep in a 243 page report from the Department of Justice, are simple, concise and clear but they speak volumes to many Milwaukee citizens, community organizers and politicians.
The report outlined multiple ways that the MPD could do a better job at community policing. One recommendation from the DOJ report was to require that every command officer complete a community policing status report. Another recommendation was that the department should write down and communicate what efforts need to take place in their areas of command.
“Why not train all officers to be community liaison officers,” said Tucker. “People need to know that people care and that police are in their position to work with their community.”
An Empty Seat Sparks New Questions
On Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, Chief Ed Flynn retired from his post, after 10 years of service with the MPD. In a letter announcing his retirement, Chief Flynn praised the Department, saying “the Milwaukee Police Department has achieved a level of excellence acknowledged by federal agencies, academic partners and peer agencies documented by the numerous awards and recognition it has received.”
With the retirement of Chief Flynn also comes a slew of new questions for the Department. What role, if any, will community policing have in the selection process of a new Chief? Will the new Chief implement a new strategy for effectively engaging with the community? Will the new Chief place an emphasis on working with community leaders such as Royal and Tucker?
In a press release, the MFPC said they will go ahead in selecting a chief that is familiar with the departments structure, and whom, “possess a vision of a 21st century Milwaukee Police Department and have earned the confidence and trust of the department members and the community at large.”