Handing out a bunch of statistics about how his ten years in office improved the crime situation, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn announced his retirement. Flynn’s last day is February 16.
In recent years, Flynn found himself a police chief with only one ally, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Frustration with his tenure in office grew so great the Milwaukee Common Council overrode Barrett’s veto to give themselves the ability to fire the police chief. That grasping of authority waits on the state legislature.
On the flip side, conservatives abandoned their support for Flynn after he spoke out against the state’s concealed carry law, defended not pursuing straw buyer gun cases, and the infamous “no chase” policy that has led stolen car crime to bleed into the suburbs.
Flynn is probably correct that crime dropped from when he first took over ten years ago. We’ll leave it to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to contest the funny math on both sides. But by Flynn’s own admission, crime crept up again in recent years. It didn’t help that Flynn was stuck with District Attorney John Chisholm (D-Milwaukee) who was more interested in pursuing Republican political opponents than in prosecuting crime. Nor did it help that Milwaukee County judges also started believing that too many people are being locked up and they became soft on crime, too.
The problem is, Flynn rarely spoke out about the courts and the district attorney. He seemed more interested in defending his “no chase” policy and speaking out against legal gun ownership. It’s no coincidence that Flynn talked about the number of guns removed from the street but did not brag about the arrest numbers.
Making matters worse, Flynn’s support among the rank-and-file became an issue after he fired Officer Christopher Manney after the officer shot Dontre Hamilton in self-defense. One possible reason why crime went up in Milwaukee is that officers suspected they were not going to be supported by the police chief, causing them to back off. It was the “Ferguson effect” on a smaller scale.
So Flynn is gone. What’s next?
As public relations expert and political observer Brian Fraley reminds us with a baseball analogy, things can get worse in Milwaukee.
“I’m reminded that in 1983 the Brewers finished 5th in the AL East, and they fired Harvey Kuenn. With no idea of who was better to take his place. They brought in Rene Lachemann in 1984. The Brewers went 67-94 in 1984. So back in 83, when they finished 5th …they were 87-75. But they wanted someone new at the helm. Didn’t know who. Just wanted change. You may not like who you have, but you have to consider who is making the hiring decisions and you need to worry about whom you’re going to get.”
Conservatives and crime-weary residents may be tired of the slow response times and the no-chase policy, but what will the next police chief be like? Will arrests go down under community pressure to reduce incarceration of minorities? Will Barrett find someone who is willing to complain more about not getting more money from the state rather than follow through on making arrests? Will Milwaukee find someone who sees it as their sole duty to complain about the state’s gun laws?
Given the decision-makers who will do the hiring and the conditions under which the next police chief will have to work, crime in Milwaukee could get much worse.