Recently, an array of faith-based, civil rights and other advocacy organizations announced they are seeking an independent review of the Milwaukee Police Department’s policing practices. Milwaukee is far from immune to the nationwide debate brought up by instances of what appear to be excessive force used against unarmed, typically African-American defendants. At stake is the public’s trust in the police force and even the justice system.
Justice Department audit months late, incomplete
One reason for this call for an independent audit is that an expected federal review has been delayed for months. According to the Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn requested the voluntary federal review after the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton by an on-duty police officer who was not prosecuted and has since been fired. The city settled with Hamilton’s family for $2.3 million.
The family of Derek Williams, who died in a police squad car, has also sued the city. A trial is scheduled for this month.
Additionally, the ACLU of Wisconsin is suing the department, alleging unconstitutional targeting of African-Americans or stops and frisks.
Three aldermen, the Journal Sentinel, and members of the coalition of groups have called for the release of a draft version of the report that the department has been circulating internally. The department denied those requests, claiming the draft report is “not final in any way” and asserting that the Justice Department will not allow it to be disclosed. He claims the department is actively lobbying the Justice Department to release it.
If a federal audit cannot be had, the groups say, another independent audit of the police department is needed. Chief Flynn says he is not opposed, but worries about who would pay for it.
“If the department is to have the full community support that it needs to operate properly, there does need to be an independent audit,” said a spokesperson for the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Problem-oriented policing wanted
The audit is intended to determine the extent to which the Milwaukee police use problem-oriented policing, which criminal justice experts say could be the way to curtail unnecessary force and violence by police. In problem-oriented policing, officers prioritize addressing issues in the neighborhoods they patrol and finding solutions that don’t necessarily involve the justice system.
This is a “fundamentally different” approach, says a spokesperson for the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. It redirects policing efforts into finding the underlying issues behind crime.
The extent to which the Milwaukee PD uses problem-oriented policing remains open to question. Chief Flynn stated that he believes Milwaukee’s policing efforts to be “among the nation’s best.”