Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Another Newspaper Attack on Chief Flynn

Has the Journal Sentinel renewed its war against the police chief or was its Sunday story simply botched reporting?

By - Sep 30th, 2014 11:28 am
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn.

Poor Police Chief Ed Flynn can’t seem to do anything right.

That, at least, might be your conclusion if you only read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Back in 2012, I suggested the newspaper was at war with Flynn, and nine Milwaukee Common Council members later issued a statement accusing the newspaper of misleading the public about how the police department reported crime data. That was extraordinary: I can’t recall a group of government officials ever daring to criticize the state’s largest newspaper.

Since then JS has dialed down the attacks on the police chief, even as it has done legitimate, important stories about problems in the department. But Sunday’s front page story, blasting Flynn and the department for not getting more officers trained to handle the mentally ill, once again felt like a hit job on him.

The story by veteran reporter Meg Kissinger charges the department hasn’t lived up to its promise to provide more training of police in handling mentally ill people. That makes for a bold headline, but the evidence for this claim simply isn’t there.

When was that promise made? In 2004, ten years ago, under a different police chief, Nannette Haggerty. So at the outset, it would appear she is at fault, not Flynn.

But in fact, Haggerty did just what was promised by the 2004 report. Kissinger quotes the report that “The Milwaukee Police Department agreed to train 1,800 officers in strategies for working with persons with mental illness” and then blasts the department, noting “The training turned out to be one three-hour class.”

That sounds absurdly short, but in fact, the report only promised “local mental health consumers will provide four hours of training to 1,800 police officers working on the streets.” MPD spokesperson Mark Stanmeyer, trying to piece together what happened a decade ago, found documents showing the three hours was followed by a question-and-answer session that presumably lasted an hour. But Kissinger’s story leaves out the quote about the four hours and leaves readers thinking something far more comprehensive had been promised.

Kissinger, who patiently went through the details of the story with me, says there was “great enthusiasm” at the time over reforming Milwaukee’s mental health system. I believe her, but the report was the result of “a coalition of 43 entities — advocates and consumer groups, community service providers, state and local government, and health care providers.” The role of police was just one part of the coalition‘s report, and there was great enthusiasm over just the four hours they would get: “more than 90% of officers will receive this valuable training!” the report exclaimed.

Kissinger goes on to discuss “Crisis Intervention Team” training, a more in-depth approach to training police modeled on what has been done in Memphis, which “is now used in more than 200 cities in the United States and more than 20 countries worldwide,” she reports. That was not something promised in the 2004 report, which explicitly stated that “Replicating this model in Milwaukee would be expensive and complex and will require much more study and analysis to move forward.”

Instead, what Haggerty did, according the MPD Inspector Carianne Yerkes, who oversees the department’s mental health training, was commit to providing CIT training to 20 percent of MPD officers. That percentage has been maintained since then under Flynn, with an approach that trains all new recruits and all veterans who volunteer for the training. Some experts believe mandatory training for all veterans is counterproductive. “A lot of officers want to serve and protect,” says Yerkes. “They don’t necessarily want to be a social worker.”

Kissinger chastises Flynn for claiming one-fourth of his officers have CIT certification. “The actual number is 367, one in five, by the Police Department’s own accounting,” she writes. But Kissinger admits she doesn’t know what percent of officers are training in CIT training in the 200 cities that have adopted the training. Do they train more than 20 percent of officers, as Milwaukee does? We don’t know.

In short, it isn’t true that the police department broke its promise, and we don’t know if Milwaukee’s police are more poorly trained than in the average big city in America. They might actually be better trained. Mental health has never been a priority in this country.

No one knows this better than Kissinger, who is really the state’s top journalist on this issue, and whose stories — typically thoughtful and well-written — have pushed this community to consider reforming its mental health care system. What has been particularly impressive about her stories — and the Journal Sentinel’s commitment to this issue — is that the mentally ill are a constituency with no clout. Publishing these stories probably won’t win the newspaper any new readers. But they have truly served the community.

So what went wrong with this one? Ten years ago a story like this would have been reviewed by at least three editors. Today the paper has less than half the staff it had back then. Maybe it’s just a case of the newspaper with stretched resources missing some errors.

But the paper does have a history of going after Flynn with questionable stories — and Flynn has responded by bashing the newspaper. Nothing is more likely to anger a newspaper’s editors — leading them to circle the wagons against their tormentor — than getting such criticism.

Kissinger’s story was followed by an article by Gina Barton basically suggesting the City of Milwaukee shouldn’t contest the 50 or so civil rights suits filed against the MPD for its alleged strip searches of suspects and should simply agree to settlements.

I doubt any city would ever adopt that course — which the plaintiff’s lawyers would love — because at the very least city officials would hope to stall the cases,  and the impact on taxpayers.

The newspaper seems clueless as to just how difficult the financial situation is for the City of Milwaukee. Once upon a time the City Hall beat was the paper’s most important one, but that hasn’t been true for at least ten years. And most of the JS staff, both editors and reporters, live in the suburbs, many outside Milwaukee County.

As I’ve reported, the city’s shared revenue from the state income tax has declined drastically in the last 15 years, yet the city is constrained by state law from levying its own income tax. Today, the police budget of $244 million is nearly equal to the city’s entire property tax levy of $254 million. The situation has left Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council members united on most budget issues these days: the choices are so stark that there isn’t much difference any more between fiscal conservatives and liberals.

Kissinger quotes Yerkes to the effect that the MPD could certainly improve how it handles the mentally ill, and that Milwaukee is “ten years behind” Houston, considered the gold standard in how it handles the problem. But as Yerkes noted to me, “there’s a lot of other training in the department that has to be done as well.” (Kissinger reports that the last state budget provided $250,000 for mental health training, but this is chicken feed, and that’s for the whole state.)

The reality is that Ed Flynn was handed a department that had huge overtime costs and was drastically behind the times in using real-time computer data to target crime. Flynn has slashed the overtime while greatly improving the department’s technology and crime fighting ability. I have no doubt there are many things he’d like to undertake, if he had the money. His priorities are always open to question, but this story instead unfairly bashed him while misleading readers.

Categories: Murphy's Law

39 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Another Newspaper Attack on Chief Flynn”

  1. PMD says:

    How is mental health training for all veteran officers counterproductive? Simply because they don’t want to “be a social worker?” Or because they’ve been on the job so long they know how to properly handle situations involving people with a mental illness? Serving and protecting often means encountering people with mental health issues, so it’s not clear how mental health training goes against their desire to serve and protect.

  2. Bruce Murphy says:

    PMD, this is a complicated issue on which there is disagreement. I think what some cities have found is veterans who don’t want the training simply resist and the sessions bomb and are a waste of time. Easier to train young recruits who haven’t been hardened to the old ways of policing.

  3. PMD says:

    I agree it’s a complicated issue Bruce. Not trying to suggest otherwise. But if veterans refuse or resist mental health training, and problems arise like someone with a mental illness being shot and killed by a veteran officer, does the department have any blame? Just the officer? Or no one because it couldn’t have been avoided?

  4. Bruce Murphy says:

    PMD, I’m not suggesting the department shouldn’t be blamed. They already have been. I’m questioning the accuracy of the reporting here.

  5. PMD says:

    I get that. I just found that statement from Yerkes about veteran officers and mental health training kind of odd and callous.

  6. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Who will take credit for Milwaukee being in the top ten most violent. Flynn is worse than Artie Jones, who was drive from office, like the Left tried to do with David Clarke, by the Racist Left in city. They go after very Black leader, especially if they do not follow the Left’s guidelines.
    Veteran police like Glenn Frankovis have outlined plans to stop the violence but Barrett/Flynn follows the poltical correct way of the Left.
    Barrett/Flynn/Chisholm/Kremer have decided to let gun criminals go, few ever go to jail unless they would kill a Lefty from Shore

  7. PMD says:

    Who is Glenn Frankovis? What’s his plan to stop the violence?

  8. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Frankovis was Capt in the worst precincts in Milwaukee under Jones. If you look at records you will see that crime actually was reduced and he did very good job. He wrote a book, google it and get it. Did you go to MPS?? Can you really read more than a comic book?
    Leftist racists drove Artie from office as htey want to do with Clarke and isntall a good old boy who will put local dems to wrk again.. why did he do better job? he let the local cops do their job.

  9. PMD says:

    I’ve never read a comic book in my life and I didn’t go to MPS. What does that have to do with who Glenn Frankovis is and what his plan to stop the violence is?

  10. Eric S says:

    @WCD What does top ten most violent mean? City? What metric are you using to make that claim?

  11. capper says:

    “No one knows this better than Kissinger, who is really the state’s top journalist on this issue, and whose stories — typically thoughtful and well-written — have pushed this community to consider reforming its mental health care system. What has been particularly impressive about her stories — and the Journal Sentinel’s commitment to this issue — is that the mentally ill are a constituency with no clout. Publishing these stories probably won’t win the newspaper any new readers. But they have truly served the community.”

    Hmm. Mr. Murphy, you might want to check your facts before echoing Boss Abele’s patently false statements. If you think that the community, or the mentally ill population, has been served by Abele’s abandonment of his duties, you are grossly misinformed. I’m afraid these irresponsible statements might come back to haunt you.

  12. tim haering says:

    Nice analysis. But do you think MJS will respond to your critique? NO, you’ll get treated like GOP treats Eugene Kane. WHO? My point. Geesh, and they even hired you for a time, presumably for your good work. I guess you suck now. So sorry, Bruce. Oh, and welcome back.

  13. Bruce Murphy says:

    Capper, what are you talking about? Abele isn’t mentioned in this story.

  14. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Eric, do your home work I am tired of having to babysit the left who has opinions but never facts.

  15. Keith Prochnow says:

    Eric, a suggestion: When reading this site, just skip over WCD’s comments, like everyone else does.

  16. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Keith, typical reaction from the left. Never mind your facts, I have my opinions. That is why Conservatives think you stupid.

  17. Kyle says:

    WCD – That’s the typical reaction to your comments by everyone on this site, liberal or conservative. Your consistent and repeated typographical errors make it difficult to understand what you’re trying to say, made worse by the fact that you’re rarely on topic with the article you’re commenting on. Eric asked a legitimate question related to your unfinished sentence. His homework shouldn’t have to include trying to read your mind.

  18. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I can’t type, liberals cannot think, so sue me.

  19. Casey says:

    @WCD or give a logical response without attacking the person who asked a question.
    We could see if you would haul off and attack PMD from the gate but c’mon….what did Eric ever do to you?

  20. David says:

    A lot of cities take their turn on and off those top ten lists. Look for Milwaukee to be off next year.

  21. Eric S says:

    Wow, I’m almost hesitant now to follow up. I assumed “top ten most violent” referred to Milwaukee being one of the ten most violent cities in the US – which it is, according to a few lists, but not according to other lists. That is why I was wondering which list was used to make that claim.

  22. David says:

    It’s funny, there are so many lists…. and we’re not on some but on others. I hate to see Milwaukee on any of them. If smaller towns, < 250K, are included, we are nowhere near the most violent. They seemed to be dominated by the Flints and Camdens of the world. On lists that only include cities of 500K to 1M, we make the list. Some cities include much of their metro population (Indy, San Antonio, Louisville, etc.) and that waters down their numbers. Furthermore, I don't think all cities are measuring and reporting crime statistics in a standardized and accurate manner. The lists are not credible.

  23. David says:

    I think the best way to measure violent crime in a city is to look at it over a longer period of time than a one year snapshot. US News and World Report did just that (2003-2010). Milwaukee does not make the list of the top 11 most dnagerous cities. I was surprised to see that bastion of civility, Minneapolis, on the list. Its safe to say that we all agree that we need to continue efforts to reduce crime. But let’s stop throwing around these stupid lists…… WCD. We get it Liberal = stupid and Conservative = smart.

  24. David says:

    This is great. That shining star Minneapolis is top 10 most dangerous city between 2003 – 2010 as reported by US News and World Report, but in 2014, another study rank it 94th safest of 100. I think Mnpls adjusted its numbers a bit. What a joke.

  25. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Not credible, BS. Typical Leftwing. Your opinion more valuable than data. Fact is that Giuilani/Bllomberg took NY from over 3500 murders and far more aggravated assaults, the most improtant measure, down to around 350.
    Check and compare Arti Jones record to Flynn, Arti improved cause he let the precinct captains run their show and those like Frankovis got it done.
    All Barrett, Left, Flynn can do is whine about some guys in Crandon are selling guns to neighbors and not registering them. Total BS. Everyone knows what works, there have been zillion studies.
    Left wing promise huge shootouts when people got CC. Did not happen. 300,000 or so carry guns, probably another 25,000 or so illegally. Go after them, put them in jail, crime will go down. Simple, I have made it so the Lefties can figure it out. In Chicago only 6% of gun crimes get prosecuted and jailed. Milwaukee about same according to police that I know. Wonder why we have problems. Figure it dumb bunnies. quit making dumb excuses.

  26. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    David you cannot group Milwaukee in with much bigger cites as inclusive lists do. If you take out Chicago, DC, NO and LA from the murder statistics you will find that US has very low gun murders. In Northern Wis. there are ten times as many guns per capita as Milwaukee but 5% of the violence. Major point is the population makeup, but Milwaukee’s failure to control drugs, Walker has good idea, is difference.
    I have worked in or around the inner cites for 30 years in apts. and pharmacies. It runs on drugs. Remove the drug money and you will see major change. Drug test welfare and unemployed.

  27. Bruce Murphy says:

    WCD, your contention that Milwaukee did much better when the Arthur Jones was police chief would be shared by few people, as this column from back then would suggest:

    Nor do I remember any “leftists” driving Jones from office. His main antagonists were the police union and Mark Belling.

  28. David says:

    The smaller cities have the highest rates per capita. I’m not saying that we can’t do a better job at reducing crime, I’m just saying that the data and stats are all over the place. They can’t be trusted. And I think Art Jones did himself in. Talk radio went crazy when he dismantled the gang unit. WCD, we know its the new conservative narrative to label Democrats as the real racists, but you’re all over the place.

  29. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I communicate daily with the biggest Conservative gang in the state. Very knowledgeable both of cities and overall political actions. After Thornton was driven out and Clarke was stabbed in the back cause he was not one of the Steppin Fetchit Blacks, in Milwaukee, it was obvious what has happened. We all discussed why all of the black leaders except Howard Fuller have been driven from office. Look a the names all the Left called Clarke, same for
    Artie and Gwen Moore. Everyone knows that Thornton was very good man but the Left, the all powerful unions and Barrett refused to back him on programs to help the kids. They all wanted to help the people that voted for them. Think about it folks, that is the bed that you have made.
    Name me the black leaders that have been successful unless they became a house boy? You all know that if Clarke had been elected sheriff, was on the podium with Flynn, Barrett and other Lefties, went to all the fundraisers, hired the hacks from the Left that he would be lionized.
    He took over lakefront from police and cleaned it up. Took HOC and fixed it. Has gotten the required policing of the courts, jail, freeways despite big cuts. You cut police/fire/sheriff last and that has not happened.

  30. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    The Left is either racist or incredibly inept and stupid. Maybe super smart cause they have been able to manipulate people to get elected for 100 years.
    Look at “War on Poverty”, a left program. Total failure poverty worse. Families destroyed. Segregation. Left been in control for much of last 100 years. Failure.
    Conservatives say that the only thing that will solve segregation is jobs and education. Left Failed. Education, Left and Unions in power, MPS failure, worse all the time. Poverty, amongst worst in country, Left failure. 57% youth unemployment, Left failure. Horrible crime, Left failure.
    Need I go on?

  31. Tom D says:

    WCD writes: “Fact is that Giuilani/Bllomberg took NY from over 3500 murders…”

    Simply not true. New York City has NEVER had 3,500 homicides in one year (or even 2,500, unless you count 9/11 which happened while Giuliani was mayor). The absolute highest homicide count (excluding 9/11) was 2,245 in 1991.

    After 1991, the count dropped year-after year. Note that by the time Giuliani took office in 1994, the rate had been dropping for a few years already. That drop started under ultra-liberal mayor David Dinkins. (Bloomberg took office even later, in 2002.)

    Also note that both Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg were strong opponents of private gun ownership (although Giuliani flip-flopped on this after leaving office.)

  32. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Again, there are studies all over and let us just forget number but agree that under Dinkins to Giuliani had big decrease, my kids live there, in FBI. Bloomberg kept Rudy’s plans. Compare Milwaukee in last 20 years.

  33. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Again, everyone compares murders cause they cannot be fudged, as Flynn has done, shown in Journal studies. The real important numbers are aggravated assaults. That is the big problem.
    But forget the numbers,we all agree that crime is the number one problem, not a new toy for some hustlers from NY.

  34. Nicholas says:

    Milwaukee quite clearly does not have a higher crime rate than say similar sized cities (cities proper not metro areas) such as Memphis, New Orleans, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Atlanta, even Baltimore.

    To say otherwise is a lie.

  35. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Nicholas just another Lefty making excuses for the sad state of Milwaukee cause of Leftist rule. do your research. Kiddies.
    Milwaukee is laughing stock of Wisconsin.

  36. PMD says:

    I know people who don’t think much of Milwaukee. They are family members who live in or near Green Bay and Appleton and Neenah and Oshkosh. They are rabid right-wingers who spend all day listening to talk radio and all night watching Fox News. Some of them have literally never set foot in Milwaukee. Some attend the occasional Brewer’s game or Summerfest. They honestly believe that if they set foot in Milwaukee they will immediately be carjacked and murdered. Most of them are flat-out racist and make no attempt to hide their racism. If people like that think Milwaukee is a laughingstock, good for them. There’s no reason to lose any sleep over that. They have no idea what they are talking about and believe everything they hear on talk radio. They aren’t capable of independent thought. I feel sorry for people like that, people who are narrow-minded and see only the negative in everything.

  37. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I feel sorry for PMD who is almost funny. No one out state thinks much of Milwaukee, either left or right. They live in different world. Any dem or GOP that vote things for Milwaukee will get creamed next time.
    They are not racist they just think people in Milwaukee are nuts, All of them. Why?
    Here is what they see?
    1. Violent crime with the crooks/thugs never going to jail. Everyone arrested fro aggravated assaults etc. have long arrest list. Gun thugs never get prosecuted while at the same time the cheif and Mayor call for them to register their guns. Nuts.
    2. MPS cannot teach kids to read. People with same incomes in north do that.
    3. Poverty for 60 years and no answer
    4. Abandoned houses with no answer
    5, 57% youth unemployment, no answer.
    6. Corrupt govt all the time headlines.
    7. Heroin epidemic spilling over to their areas.
    8. “harvard” of human trafficking.
    9. Chair of Milwaukee county board lying to legislature. Passing one stupid law screwing business after another. Businesses go to Waukesha.
    10. City of Milwaukee one of ten worst managed.
    Barrett so inept he spends all of his time trying to get other jobs.
    People out state are legions above Milwaukee in so man areas and not making much money either.
    They see all these problems and what is on the front pages? A new Arena for two hustlers from NY to have their guys bounce a ball around and line their pockets with Wisconsin money.
    We had devil of time getting people to vote for anything in Milwaukee. The stadium was miracle even though they were not paying for it. Tommy had to run around state to get it done ad then the Milwaukee people screwed Tommy and the GOP.
    Milwaukee leaders are tone deaf to the problems, have no answers, blame everyone else, treat outstate people as PMD has like redneck hicks and whine all the time. They are joke. If they are so stupid outstate how come that there is 1/100 the crime, bad schools etc. Out state worked cause they have decent leaders.

  38. PMD says:

    I rest my case.

  39. David says:

    WCD…… take a deep breath. You’re more concerned with politics than you are with solving problems. We’re just concerned citizens on this site, we’re not in the “game” like you.

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