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Milwaukee PD Under Fire After Federal Report

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Premiere Date: 
September 1, 2017

Milwaukee PD Under Fire After Federal Report

The Milwaukee Police Department came under scrutiny this week when a federal draft review of the department, critical of its practices, was published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. State Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) explains that many of the claims against the department resonate with his constituents. "This report is speaking truth to the experience we have," Bowen says.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

A first look tonight at policing in the city of Milwaukee. This week, a long-awaited draft report from the U.S. Department of Justice went public when the Journal Sentinel published it. The report is a result of an extensive review of the police department called a Collaborative Reform Initiative. The Milwaukee police chief requested the review in 2015, following an officer-involved fatal shooting which caused public outcry and protests.

Frederica Freyberg:

The feds look included several areas. As for diversity in the ranks, the report says, quote, overall, MPD is not a diverse law enforcement organization and the demographics of the department are not representative of the community it serves. On community policing, focus groups and interviews with MPD personnel it says revealed an inconsistent understanding of community policing and often a lack of knowledge as to who is responsible for promoting community policing. On use of force, the report says overall African-Americans are disproportionally impacted by MPD use of force. While comprising approximately 39% of the Milwaukee population, they comprise 75% of all use of force subjects. And on citizen stops and searches, the report states we heard from most MPD members that the department's primary law enforcement strategy is to stop as many vehicles as possible in high-crime areas as identified by data. The report says the police chief's focus on crime data distracts from what it calls the primary tenet of modern policing: trust between police and citizens. The draft report makes several recommendations for change. But a final report may never be produced because the Trump administration says police reform is not a priority. For his part, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn says this: quote, the initial report was riddled with erroneous assertions, he says, and inaccurate data. MPD worked in true collaboration with DOJ consultants to rectify these errors. It is my goal to move forward with the recommendations for reform rather than to be mired in the need to refute errors I have been assured have been corrected.

Frederica Freyberg:

Police Flynn declined an interview on this. We are joined by Democratic State Representative David Bowen of Milwaukee for his reaction to the report. Thanks for being here.

David Bowen:

Thank you for having me on.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is your reaction to this draft report?

David Bowen:

Well, my reaction is that it's very clear in this report with the 100+ recommendations that clearly our speaking to the folks that have been calling out for change, calling out for a different type of practice and different type of treatment from their own police department, that those claims had been real. That they are not made up. That there are very important things that affect them and how they're treated by the police department. And you go line by line on those recommendations and it's very clear that the 21st century report on policing, where the Obama administration brought a number of stakeholders together to provide best practices, that those recommendations that they have are not being followed by the Milwaukee Police Department. And it is very important that for the trust to be built in our community when it comes to these situations that can be prevented, that they actually follow these recommendations.

Frederica Freyberg:

As we heard, Chief Flynn contests many of the findings. He said it was riddled with erroneous accusations. And yet he requested it. So how much of a show of cooperation toward reform was it for Chief Flynn to actually go out and request this review?

David Bowen:

I think for me I want to know from the chief what exactly has been wrong or erroneous in this report. Because in my experience as a young African-American man, having residents in my district that interact with police departments on a regular basis, those who have been treated unfairly from their own police department that should be there to protect and serve them, you ask those individuals, we all agree that this report is speaking truth to the experience that we have. Our police chief needs to -- I would say align with this report and take these recommendations very seriously, because that is how you implement best practices. That is how you can change the trajectory of so many situations of use of force being implemented throughout our community and disproportionately affecting black residents.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you've read this report and you know about police reform initiatives kind of nationwide. What about your constituents? What about the people in Milwaukee? What is their reaction?

David Bowen:

I think their reaction is finally something is coming out. This truly is from a third party that had no interest in trying to push negative things on our police department. They wanted the truth to be shown so that they could direct our police department on how to best address the issues that are plaguing it right now. The culture that is continuing to allow these irregular things from happening to our residents. I think when you ask folks on a grassroots level, are you stopped on a regular basis, disproportionately on your side of town. Clearly those things are shown and our police department is not focused on actually using practices that prevent crime. When you just randomly stop African-American members of our community, even the ones that are doing well and aren't committing crime, you're not respecting the fact that at a three times as much collection of contraband is collected from white individuals who are searched compared to black residents who do not have nearly the amount of drug possession on them or things that are found when they are stopped. And they are being stopped even way more, five times more. So that is a problem.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, if a final report is never produced and Chief Flynn says that he has been requesting that final report, do you think the review was still valuable even if there's not something kind of finalized with these finalized recommendations?

David Bowen:

This report is very valuable. And it's very unfortunate that the Trump administration does not see the value in making sure the 17,985 police departments we have across this country are following the best practices so that they can truly provide the best service possible to all members of their community. It is important that what is shared in this report on the things that our police department needs to do, that they are taken very seriously and that they are implemented. And you're talking about recommendations about being transparent with the community. Recommendations about working with the community directly and taking their insight into how you even hire officers. Making sure that your department is diversified with at least the same amount of percentage that members of the community make up the population. Very important things to recognize. And on top of that, when it comes to use of force and how those investigations are done, how that information is collected, it does not allow discretion to happen where each department can do it differently. They're saying there needs to be a set, defined standard that does that the best way. And unfortunately there's way too much discretion in how these things are done.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is your expectation as to whether or not the Milwaukee Police Department will implement these recommendations?

David Bowen:

I think they have to. And I think it would be -- it will continue to be tragic if they don't. My parents live in the Sherman Park neighborhood. I was on the ground in the neighborhood last summer when the unrest began because of the killing of Sylville Smith. We're talking about lives that are on the line. Neighborhoods that want to have great police service. And residents that deserve to be treated with the same amount of respect that white residents are given. This is the chance for our police department to step up. And to say we will be better for you. We recognize where we have fallen short. And we want to make sure that we are listening to your true concerns. And if they don't do that, I think it would be very clear of why the lack of progress has continued and the lack of trust has continued in this situation. This is their time to step up.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We leave it there. Representative David Bowen, thanks very much.

David Bowen:

Thank you so much.

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