Marquette Warrior: Milwaukee’s Top Cop: Chief Ed Flynn at Marquette

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Milwaukee’s Top Cop: Chief Ed Flynn at Marquette

It was the latest in a series of talks given at the Marquette Law School: Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward Flynn. After a light lunch, provided by the Law School, we settled in and looked up our computer and the room filled up.

[Live Blog Begins]

12:15 -- Mike Gousha introduces Flynn.

Gousha: “give us your impressions of our city”

Chief: There is a “communal will” to make things better.

Gousha: Why Milwaukee? A lot of people would want to flee.

Chief: I “want to be somewhere that all you abilities will be throughly challenged.” Quotes English scholar who says that how the laws are written is less important than how the laws are enforced.

Milwaukee a city with “significant challenges” and “significant opportunities.”

Gousha: Is this a “daunting task?”

Chief: You should have the opportunity of having daunting tasks. Challenges of this community are not unique, the are part of the “urban fabric of America.”

Big challenge is winning the confidence of communities that need them the most. There are issues to overcome in those communities.

Gousha: Do you feel pressure?

Chief: my job is to be an “enabler.” Responsibility both to motivate and to restrain. We have a culture with very many positive attributes.

There is an imbalance in perceptions. People who have good experiences with the cops tell six people. People who have bad experiences tell 17 or 18 people.

Gousha: Define “success” for me.

Chief: numbers are important, but they only tell about the end state. Somewhere in the accounting we have lost track of the real purpose: an “orderly civic environment.” Wants “orderly public places.” A decrease in arrests can mean you are succeeding. You may have reduced crime (“suppression”) which has reduced arrests.

Citizens attitudes are important. Neighborhood cohesion is good. In some of the worst neighborhoods, nobody is out on the street with a baby carriage because it isn’t safe.

Gousha: What was your reaction to FBI statistics released yesterday? [These showed violent crime nationwide to be down, but Milwaukee crime to be up.]

Chief: Points to lag in FBI statistics. Numbers just released show the picture the first half of 2007. They may not compare Milwaukee to comparable cities. In Springfield, there was a dip in violent crime, and he [Flynn] was a hero. Then there was an upward spike. Bad news.

Gousha: A big problem here, petty disputes that escalate.

Chief: Some things that “only stable families and stable communities” can achieve. It takes a village to raise a child, but the police can help produce the “village.” Local organizations can function well if the community is safe.

Mentions out of wedlock birth rate. Poverty rate.

But these are not an excuse for misconduct.

Cops need to “take on the generation of young men who are creating the problems.”

Maybe the next generation can be helped.

Gousha: You said “you want to get beyond the stale debate of police versus community.”

Chief: Society has changed dramatically since I was in grade school and high school. Things have gotten better. Cops are better trained and more diverse than ever before.

He objects to scapegoating cops based on one or a few examples of misconduct.

There is a lot of community demand for tougher policing. Neighborhoods say “give us more cops,” but then cops do something people object to and “all of a sudden it’s 1965 and I’m Bull Connor.”

For example: cops are taught to keep themselves safe, but this can be scary if you see it.

Gousha: are communities going to interact more with cops on the beat.

Chief: Demands for service make this hard. “Wholesale” vs. “Retail” policing. The former involves keeping public spaces safe. The latter involved calls for service from individuals.

Community needs to understand that there is a tradeoff. People may have to understand that they may get less in personal service if they want gangs on corner, graffiti, etc. taken care of.

Gousha: What should you do about illegal immigration.

Chief: “Stick our fingers in our ears and do our job.” Caring about border security is certainly legitimate, but on the other hand immigration has been good for America.

If I find somebody bleeding that speaks Spanish in the street, is my first question “what is your immigration status?”

[Flynn seems less the politically correct liberal than a bureaucrat who wants to get his job done, and resents external demands that interfer with his core task.]

Flynn adds that were actual criminal activity by illegals is at issue, he’s happy to cooperate with whoever can get the person off the street. [Implicitly including Federal immigration officials.]

Gousha: Is this a “springboard job?”

Chief: I’m committed to stay here for four years. Why did I consider leaving Springfield? “It’s your fault!” Milwaukee people came to me.

Gousha: What about your experience going to Catholic schools.

Chief: It made you very disposed to feel very guilty, and inclined to accept people in police uniforms telling you what to do. [laughter]

Important to have an ideal. Important to have a noble purpose. “When I looked a policing I see a noble enterprise.”

A liberal arts background is a great preparation for dealing with people.

Not a fan of Criminal Justice undergraduate majors.

Enjoyed graduate school. Danger of cop work, you can become “a burnt out cynic.”

Faced a lot of hatred as a cop in the early 70s. Came to understand that cops bond because of common danger.

[Audience Questioning Begins]

Question: Common Grounds initiative

Chief: An experiment in one district right now. We as an agency haven’t embraced it as much as we might. Involves “negotiating” with trouble makers in neighborhoods, but this doesn’t involve making concessions to them. [It sounds more like laying out consequences.]

Question: What about training for community policing?

Chief: Police need problem solving training. Need to get behind the incidents. If a given bar is a source of continued trouble, maybe the owner needs to do some things differently. Cops need to understand neighborhood norms. “Law enforcement” is just part of the job. More of the job is “policing.”

[He seems to mean that the latter involves the totality of keeping neighborhoods safe.]

Question: poverty is high in Milwaukee.

Chief: It’s more likely for crime to cause poverty than for poverty to cause crime. [!!!]

Kids are afraid to go to school (dangerous), afraid to appear “smart” in class. People do not take jobs after dark because it’s unsafe to get to work. We can have an impact on that.

Can we have an effect on the “macro situation” – people having babies, guys abandoning their families, etc. ?

Question: How much doing your own thing, and how much following the lead of other agencies.

Chief: “one of the great things about crime in Milwaukee is that there is enough for everybody.” [laughter]. What we are doing is both.

“We are going to be pushing authority down to the district.”

Question [public defender]: many times young Hispanics and blacks are stopped by police, sometimes without good reason. Perception: “police are an occupying force.” Admits a police interest in maintaining public order is legitimate.

Chief: You have outlined the trade-off here. One of the tools we have is approaching people and asking “who are you and what are you doing here.” We get calls all the time from people saying “I’m afraid to walk down the street because of those guys hanging around.” We have to be professional, but protect public order.

Intervening in minor misbehavior has an effect on street crime. Writing a lot of traffic tickets reduces crime.

Encourages cops to say “hello” to people who are known to be offenders. Encouraged that in Springfield. Wants more interaction with people who make cause problems – but in a respectful way.

Question: what about young people. I’m a mentor of a young kid in the inner city. What do I do encourage him to go into law enforcement.

Chief: I can only say what his mom says: “stay in school, get a diploma.” Maybe technical school is good, wakes up the brain and good things happen.

Policing is the “constant exercise of decision under stress.” We need a maturity of judgment beyond the years of young cops.

Neighborhoods need to reach out to cops just as cops need to reach out to neighborhoods..

Education is essential, it’s a judgment job.

Question: what kind manager do you intend to be? Do you delegate, or do you expect to be out on the street?

Chief: somewhere in the middle. I want to delegate. But I want to see people working too. Wants authority to be delegated down to the level where judgment is made.

Question: Packers or Patriots?

Chief: “You’re asking me whether I’m going to be rooting for the world champion . . . ”

Gousha: “The honeymoon here [in Milwaukee] could be short!” [laughter]

[End Live Blog]


Flynn is basically conservative, and highly sophisticated. He doesn’t seem to care for race hustlers (remember the “all of a sudden it’s 1965 and I’m Bull Connor” comment), but is intensely concerned with the quality of life in “the communities that need [the cops] the most.” He sees getting the respect and cooperation of high crime communities as a “challenge,” but has no illusions about who the good guys and the bad guys are. The cops are the good guys. Law abiding citizens are the good guys.

He passed up several opportunities to agree with simplistic platitudes. He insisted that crime can cause poverty, contrary to the politically correct doctrine that anti-poverty programs rather than cops are what we need more of. He insisted that people who want cops on the beat and highly visible in public spaces may have to accept a lower level of personal service. Maybe people shouldn’t call 911 for every little problem. He could have blandly promised that citizens can have it both ways.

He seemed to understand the role of family structure in producing crime, and even the role of what political scientists call “social capital” -- a network of robust community institutions.

Overarching all of this was a concern for police professionalism.

Can he make things better? Who knows. He’s a guy at the top of a large bureaucracy in a city with large swaths of territory dominated by a culture that creates crime. But if anybody has a shot at it, it’s Flynn.


Here, courtesy of the Law School, is the podcast of the talk.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flynn was my chief when he was in Arlington. Intelligent man, with an impressive perspective on policing. As a "smart cop", he was great to work for. Definitely had a vision, and worked to implement it.

2:11 AM  

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