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