Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Flynn Blasts Police Chief Search

Two-fold process could hurt department, he says. Other cities don’t do this, experts say.

By - Feb 1st, 2018 12:01 pm
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Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn blasted the two-part search process for a new police chief, calling it a “cockamamie approach” that could disrupt the order and stability of the police department, in an exclusive interview with Urban Milwaukee.

Flynn said he had never heard of doing a search for an interim chief “like you’re selecting a permanent chief,” followed by a second search for the more permanent leader.

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) has been conducting a search for interim chief for which 10 candidates applied and three finalists were chosen today: Inspector Michael Brunson, Assistant Chief James Harpole and Capt. Alfonso Morales.

“They are pitting senior command staff against each other and basically destabilizing the department while everybody in the department is trying to back the person they think will win,” Flynn says. And that process could be repeated when the search for a permanent chief occurs.

Steven M. DeVougas, FPC board chair, says he doesn’t believe the process will be disruptive and that “we were uncomfortable with just making the assistant chief (Harpole) the interim chief.”

Flynn says it would have been far less disruptive for the department to make Harpole the interim leader, and then conduct a national search. “The organization needs to operate in an orderly, predictable way,” he warns. “The train has to run on time.”

The interim search is quite involved. DeVoguas says the candidates were reviewed as to their experience, education level, time on the force, community outreach, and other factors. All were also asked to submit an essay on how they would handle the first 100 days on the job.

And next week the three finalists will be asked to attend a session where members of the community can question them, to “put them under the lights and see how they do,” DeVougas says.

“I’ve never heard of that,” says Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a national organization of law enforcement officials dedicated to improving the professionalism of policing. “It’s unusual to have a process like that for choosing the interim chief.”

Rick Myers, Executive Director of Major Cities Chiefs Association, a national association of chiefs and sheriffs representing big cities in the U.S. and Canada, says he knows of no city that’s conducted such an involved search for interim chief. Nor does Wexler.

“That’s a very unusual process,” Myers says. “Generally the selection of an interim chief is done very quickly and there is a small pool of candidates. To have 10 candidates for interim chief — that’s a lot.”

Both Wexler and Myers emphasized that they weren’t passing judgment on Milwaukee’s approach, and there isn’t one right way to do it. “It’s not necessarily good or bad,” Wexler says of Milwaukee’s approach.

But they noted the typical approach was to quickly appoint an interim chief and then do an involved search for the choice of a permanent chief.

“It’s done quickly to assure continuity,” Myers says of the interim appointment.

“If you’re going to choose an interim chief, why not just name someone right away so the department isn’t unsettled wondering who it will be?” Myers asks, adding that an involved interim search can end up being disruptive.

DeVougas says the FPC sees it as an advantage to have as democratic a process as possible, with more opportunity for the community to offer its views. “We need a chief who is community savvy,” he says.

As for the idea of twice pitting members of the police department against each other, DeVougas says: “I think competition is good. This is America. Competition is healthy. The cream will rise to the top.”

The FPC seems to favor a candidate from within the department, which could mean its managers could twice be pitted against each other. DeVougas, however, says that, “if the interim is a rock star they might get the nod as permanent chief. The interim could be for a very long time.”

Flynn, however, worries that this open-ended situation could create unrest within the department. “Nobody knows what kind of job they are walking into or for how long,” he says.

Flynn says Harpole could serve ably as interim chief while a national search was done. “That would make for a smoother transition,” he notes. “Instead you have all this hubbub.”

But the tension and disagreements that have arisen between Flynn and the FPC over the last year seems to have left its members unwilling to simply elevate the chief’s number two man, even for only an interim position.

DeVougas points to an ACLU suit against the city and police department and the on-golng effort to institute reforms suggested in the unfinished draft report of a controversial federal Department of Justice analysis of the police department. “There’s so much that needs to be done,” he notes.

Certainly Flynn was not happy about either challenge to his department. But you would expect Harpole, if interested in the permanent post of police chief, would do everything possible to cooperate with the FPC, should he be chosen as interim chief.

That would be the usual way for a big city police department to go, to judge by what national experts have to say. But there was an additional reason for the unusually involved search for an interim chief, DeVougas says:

“We used this as an opportunity to show the political independence of the Fire and Police Commission.”

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

3 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Flynn Blasts Police Chief Search”

  1. blurondo says:

    It sounds as if the FPC is employing this “jump through the hoops” process to actually choose a permanent chief. If so, to the detriment of Milwaukee, they are eliminating a national search.

  2. Lucy Cooper says:

    Anyone who thinks the FPC was just going to slide Flynn’s loyal, competent WHITE second in command into the Interim spot has been living under a rock or at least not reading local news for the last two years as Flynn’s relationship with FPC has deteriorated steadily. Flynn – partly due to his own arrogance – was under attack from both his officers’ union and many African American alders and heads of recognized organizations in the minority community. His repeated denial about the strip searches in the 5th District really did irreparable damage to his relations with the minority community, not to mention costing the taxpayers millions. His insistence on sticking with the well intentioned but disastrous in practice “no chase” policy alienated everybody – especially those of us who live in the city and live with the mayhem caused by the mobile drug dealers and the crazy kids. His dismissal of the officer who shot Dontre Hamilton infuriated the Union – and a police Chief has to have the REST of the community with him when he needs to take on the police union.

    Harpole should probably have gotten the job ten years ago (I thought so – I live in the 3rd District, where he was an outstanding captain) and he was probably running the department when Flynn was out of town on on various special projects or causes.

    But now his closeness to Flynn and his discretion and being the good soldier for ten years is going to hurt him. Too bad. We are in for a round of tribal politics and score settling. And at the end of the day whoever is appointed is going to have the impossible task of trying to run a police department with the union and Bob Donovan and Mark Borkowski screaming every time an officer is disciplined or the chief offends Mike Crivello and the African American community leaders and Alders keeping up a drumbeat of criticism of what they see as discriminatory over-policing.

    I personally think the City should have a rule that the Interim cannot apply for then permanent job. Then there would not be the jockeying over the Interim and it would really be a caretaker job while we play out the inevitable tribal politics over the permanent Chief.

    I also think Flynn should keep quiet for the next two weeks. He is not going to influence anyone and he may well hurt the people he is trying to help.

    Lucy Cooper

  3. Faith says:

    James harpole has always tried to be the best at what ever he does he didn’t spend 30 years on department for no reason. He’s nobody’s second hand. He is a real person loves family .the police department and the people he serves .all that he wants is a great place for the people of Milwaukee. He is a great father husband and sibling .If your someone who knows him you know what I mean the people of Milwaukee would be lucky to have him God bless him on the way

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