Ed Flynn Looks Back — And Ahead
The Common Council, he says, was a “little like middle school.”
One of Milwaukee’s longest tenured police chiefs is about to close out a lengthy career in law enforcement.
As he looks in the rear-view mirror and reflects on his time running the police department, Edward Flynn yesterday touched on a range of issues — from the high-profile, officer-involved shooting of Dontre Hamilton to his much maligned vehicle pursuit policy.
Flynn last month announced he was ending a law enforcement career spanning 47 years — the last 10 in Milwaukee. He sat down Thursday with broadcast journalist Mike Gousha at Marquette University as a guest in the distinguished fellow’s “On the Issues” lecture series.
Although his last day on the job — Feb. 16 — is fast approaching, Flynn says he hasn’t spent much time reflecting. At the moment, he said, he’s still working through the day-to-day matters that funnel into his office at MPD’s headquarters downtown.
“I’m still engaged with the issues and am still trying to reach out to the community in a meaningful way,” he said.
The department Flynn is about to leave behind has gone through “an extraordinary array of changes,” he said, since his appointment was made in 2008. Some of the less glamorous aspects of the job — including data analysis — reveal MPD is in a better place today, he asserted.
“I think we’ve gotten better at spreading our message to those who will listen,” Flynn said. “That’s not always well understood in an era of conflict journalism.”
As with many urban agencies across the U.S., the men and women wearing blue across Milwaukee have faced a headwind of challenges in recent years as incidents nationwide of officer-involved shootings within the black community have grabbed headlines.
Flynn said he is optimistic Milwaukee is stabilizing from the unrest that occurred in 2016 and prior, pointing to this past year as the basis for his statement.
Gousha pressed Flynn on two oft-mentioned criticisms — his relationship with the 15 aldermen sitting on the Common Council and the vehicle pursuit policy.
While Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett have usually worked in concert with one another, the same cannot be said of the council — a reality that was evident last year as aldermen wanted more say in who oversees the department.
In response, Flynn said some of his designees, including a chief of staff, liaised with the aldermen in the past. But as changes occurred within the department’s staffing structure in recent years, he commonly became the de facto person doing the interfacing.
“When you’re away from the City Hall bubble, it is a little like middle school,” Flynn said. “When you come back, people are talking about you, but you don’t know why. There was a lot of three-dimensional chess going on there for a while.”
When the Fire and Police Commission ordered changes to Flynn’s vehicle pursuit policy last fall, he said he complied — but he did so in disagreement with the civilian body’s directive.
“More cities are actually going to that policy,” Flynn said of the restraint efforts.
Regardless of the crime, high-speed chases between an officer and suspect “are inherently dangerous,” Flynn said. “(A fleeing vehicle) is an unguided missile. We were just trying to limit your risk.”
Even though he has no skin in the game, as it were, Flynn is opining on the short- and long-term recruitment process for his successor. And he is not pulling any punches.
The Fire and Police Commission, Flynn said, is “doing it perversely, completely wrong,” particularly with the short-term approach of having top-level staffers in his department compete for the interim title.
A traditional approach — and one Flynn said he believes the FPC should have pursued — would have entailed naming his second-in-command, Assistant Police Chief James Harpole — to the interim chief post. A professional search firm should have been hired, he said, to look for his long-term successor.
Harpole, incidentally, announced this week he was retiring the same day as Flynn, withdrawing his name from the list of interim candidates.
Regardless of who takes the reins of the department, Flynn offered a piece of advice while illustrating the need to make tough calls in the name of professionalism: “You have to be willing to alienate everybody at some point,” he said.
Flynn said he will be moving outside Milwaukee once he turns in his badge.
When asked by Gousha what his post-retirement plans were, Flynn, in response, said, “Really, not much. I’m going to get back to Virginia. I think I really need to de-stress a bit.” That scenario, at least, is Flynn’s short-term plan.
Long-term, Flynn said he likely would pursue consulting work and has already been in talks with a few firms about such a possibility.
More about the Retirement of Chief Flynn
- Ed Flynn Looks Back — And Ahead - Dave Fidlin - Feb 9th, 2018
- Police Chief Flynn Resigns - Bruce Murphy and Graham Kilmer - Jan 8th, 2018
- Flynn Departure Creates New Opportunities - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Jan 8th, 2018
- Common Council Statement on Flynn Retirement - Milwaukee Common Council - Jan 8th, 2018
- Fire & Police Commission Response to Chief Flynn Retirement Announcement - City of Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission - Jan 8th, 2018