Mending MPD's Relationship with the Community

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by Elizabeth Fay

MILWAUKEE -- Chief Ed Flynn and other city leaders in Milwaukee are trying to repair the damaged relationship between residents and police. Part of the troubled relationship stems from the Derek Williams case, where Williams, 22,  died in police custody and no officers were held legally responsible for his death.

James Santelle, the U.S. District Attorney of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, is organizing efforts to revive a commission to improve law enforcement relations. He says the structure and the exact mission of the entity are still being discussed but the entity will address "issues related to law enforcement and issues to ensure the civil rights of all people in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and throughout the United States of America are observed and promoted and defended," said Santelle.

The entity, originally named "The Milwaukee Commission on Police and Community Relations," formed a decade ago in the wake of the beating of Frank Judd by off-duty officers. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn says the commission is responsible for some positive change. He says it advocated for the city to support MPD in its efforts to put cameras in squad cars. As a result, the number of cameras increased from 38 to 109, according to Chief Flynn.

 However, city leaders say over the years, the commission has lost its momentum.  Mayor Tom Barrett believes now there is a renewed interest. "I think there is new energy now and I think that is going to help more than anything."

The mayor and the police chief say they plan to be involved in the revived entity. "I think our goal is to put together a group of people that are thoughtful, that represents a diversity, but also are a group of folks who are in a position to kind of, take the community's temperature. Also, to engage in useful discussions about the future," said Flynn.

Reverend Willie Brisco, The President of Micah, an inter-faith organization that addresses justice issues, says he wants to be a part of any effort to move the community forward. "There is a lot of anger and distrust in the police department but my faith tells me that we have to start somewhere," said Rev. Brisco. However, he  worries this group will be come a "feel-good organization" without results. "One of the cautious reasons we approach it this time, is because there is no need to revive an entity that has no ability to make change, or suggest change, or to meet with the top brass of the police department."

Chief Flynn says he hopes to attend the commission's meetings himself rather than send a department representative. "Certainly it would be my preference, if we've got the right people at the table, I would certainly be the one to want to hear what they have to say," said Chief Flynn. He explained, "It's important to me to be in environments in which I can have a rational discussion and some back and forth with the notion that there's a level of mutual trust. That we assume goodwill of each other. That we don't have to preface every remark with a disclaimer of our good intention."

Chief Flynn says he wants to establish a sense of understanding with the community. "Sadly, there are some people in the community, for a variety of circumstances, don't assume goodwill of the police. Those are the times where we really need to have a relationship that already exists so when the crisis occurs, we are not starting to get to know each other."

Plans to revive the entity are underway but details of its structure, mission and members are still being discussed.

 

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