Op Ed

Why FPC Wants More Police Pursuits

We seek to work cooperatively with police chief while responding to community concerns.

By - Aug 23rd, 2017 11:23 am
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Steven M. DeVougas. Photo from the Fire and Police Commission.

Steven M. DeVougas. Photo from the Fire and Police Commission.

The opinion of Matthew Flynn in the August 18th Op Ed in this publication, while a valuable contribution to the pursuit policy debate, nonetheless rests on some fundamental mischaracterizations which should be corrected in order for the public to have an honest understanding of the directive recently issued by the Fire and Police Commission.

He begins be stating that “the MPD would be required to continue high speed pursuits of automobiles under some circumstances.” This is false. The directive does not require police pursuit in any circumstance, it instead allows pursuit in certain additional specific circumstances. Current policy language already affords the involved officers discretion when deciding whether or not to pursue and our directive does not demand any change to this discretion.

Many people, including Mr. Flynn, attempt to infer that our directive demands that drivers would be pursued for traffic offenses. While the reason an officer might attempt to pull a vehicle over could likely indeed be a traffic offense, the reason a pursuit might be initiated is because the subject driver is fleeing from a lawful traffic stop at high speeds. The act of fleeing can be a violent felony, and it is the driver of the fleeing vehicle who is using reckless deadly force by fleeing dangerously at high speed, and it is the driver of the fleeing vehicle who is endangering the public. Furthermore, the reactive pursuit action by law enforcement in these situations is clearly and unambiguously justified by the US Supreme Court majority opinion in Scott v. Harris. Despite this wide legal latitude, the directive keeps in place the existing overarching theme of restriction to the practice and only broadens the existing pursuable offenses modestly and reasonably to include mobile drug dealing, fleeing from police multiple times, and excessively reckless driving.

It is true when the author states “There are many methods and technologies to arrest drivers later, even drivers of stolen cars.” The Fire and Police Commission fully supports and encourages the use of alternative methods for apprehending fleeing drivers. This is why our directive also calls for a follow-up report from the MPD which we hope will show progress in the department’s efforts in non-pursuit follow up. The FPC was forced to ask for such a report on non-pursuits precisely because of the unsatisfactory findings in our commission’s research report on the topic.

Finally, the claim is that replacing Chief Flynn with another police chief will result in an increase of deadly force by MPD is offensive to the professionalism of our police force. The author presents no evidence to support this claim nor does the directive have anything to do with Chief Flynn personally. The FPC is fulfilling its duty to work collaboratively with the Chief to make Milwaukee’s policing more effective. The FPC was in place well before Chief Flynn was hired and he was well aware of the board’s authority when he accepted the position; Wisconsin State Statute Chapter 62.50 clearly states that the board may prescribe general policies and standards for the departments.

As a diverse group of Milwaukee residents acting as the citizens’ voice in fire and police matters, we take this responsibility seriously and are committed to the goal of reducing crime, fear and disorder in our city. The citizen board members of the FPC have heard the undeniable voice of the citizens of the city who have been begging our body to help the police department make our streets safer, and we have acted with a measured and common sense response.

Steven M. DeVougas was appointed to the Board in September 2013, elected Chair in July, 2015 and re-elected Chair in July, 2016. His term expires in 2018. Mr. DeVougas received his Juris Doctor from Marquette University Law School in 2007. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2004, with degrees in Economics and English. He is Past-President of the Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers and has been named “40 under 40” by the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Categories: Crime, Op-Ed

5 thoughts on “Op Ed: Why FPC Wants More Police Pursuits”

  1. Matt says:

    Put a pretty face on the police state and it will write something like this:

    “The reactive pursuit action by law enforcement in these situations is clearly and unambiguously justified by the US Supreme Court majority opinion in Scott v. Harris”.

    The only proper response to this is “who cares”. Just because a reactionary pursuit policy promulgated by an unelected, unaccountable and seemingly untrained “board” that has historically sanctioned police killings is legally justified does not mean it has any merit.

    A political board with no apparent knowledge and a disturbingly pro-violent history should at the very least establish some credibility. I do not personally believe that I am qualified to write policy for the Police. I tend to believe Chief Flynn is more qualified on such matters than I am. I particularly believe this because I recall that a lot of people (guilty and innocent) are injured in police chases, a lot of property gets damaged during these chases (such as the stolen cars the police are trying to recover), and sometimes innocent bystanders are killed. Plus if Bob Donovan is for something we can all be pretty sure its a bad idea.

    It is obviously necessary to watch the police. It is equally necessary to criticize the police. But it is not advisable to have a board micromanage the police, particularly when they are playing with lives. This is not a city where that board has established any credibility, and it should recognize its limitations before we all start noticing what a joke this is.

  2. AG says:

    Matt, this doesn’t micromanage the police. In fact it opens up more options for them to make decisions based on the situation instead of handcuffing them to an overly restrictive policy.

  3. Observer says:

    If my car is stolen, please don’t pursue it. I’d rather someone got away than to be informed the perps were captured after my car was totaled after crashing into a tree or worse yet, t-boned at an intersection.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    There’s been a lot written about this as many states and police departments seem to be grappling with what the best policy is. A story in Popular Mechanics has an interview with an officer in South Carolina who trains other officers on pursuits. He says that it is incredibly common for officers to support policies that allow them to chase as much as they want because they take it personally and get mad whenever anyone flees. That doesn’t mean it’s sound policy though.

    Stories in papers in California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states make it clear that there is a lot of concern over how many people are injured or killed in chases and concern that chases are too common (note that chases in Milwaukee went up in 2015 despite the new policy), but also that there is a range of opinion on what best practices are.

  5. “The act of fleeing can be a violent felony, and it is the driver of the fleeing vehicle who is using reckless deadly force by fleeing dangerously at high speed, and it is the driver of the fleeing vehicle who is endangering the public.” Yes, totally true, but the innocent citizen killed during this ‘violent felony’ is just as dead…no matter who is at fault. And avoidance of additional mayhem should be a major consideration in the development of police pursuit policies.

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