Ald. Bob Donovan
Press Release

Has policing in urban America become an undoable job?

Statement from Alderman Bob Donovan - May 23, 2018

By - May 23rd, 2018 11:28 am

My grandfather was a Milwaukee police officer for 43 years, serving this community from 1921 to 1964 – mostly as a patrol officer – or also known as an old fashioned beat cop.

He walked a beat on the near south side in an immigrant neighborhood just as it is today (the primary immigrants back then were Polish).

During the warmer months I used to love sitting on the porch with Grandpa as he told some amazing stories about those days. I remember men would tip their hats and step aside for him when he walked down the street. Whenever he was called upon to deal with some conflict in the neighborhood he would carefully listen to both sides and then make a recommended solution. Once that decision was offered the people would accept it and abide by it – end of story.

Grandpa never had a degree in law enforcement and he certainly never attended the FBI Academy. Quite frankly, Grandpa didn’t even graduate from high school. But he was a damn good cop!

He told me once there were two things that guided him during his 43 years with MPD: (1) Treat people the way you would want to be treated; and (2) Use a little common sense.

That was then – now let’s fast-forward to 2018.

Today officers tell me that at many scenes where they’ve pulled someone over or are attempting to make an arrest, multiple onlookers will immediately have their smartphones out shooting video. These people come out of the woodwork and are NOT there to render aid to the officers.

They are there to scrutinize the officers’ actions and to look at ways to criticize or pick apart how they are handling sometimes chaotic situations.

I argue that this lack of respect for officers from some individuals in the community is also being seen across America, as there is rampant disrespect for authority figures, whether they are officers, teachers, elected officials, public employees or clergy. This lack of respect for authority presents a great challenge to us all.

The evolution of police training has come to the point where officers today are being trained to be urban warriors instead of neighborhood guardians, and that’s inevitable, I believe, because of our violent society.

The advent of social media means that video of an incident can be spread across the globe in seconds as fodder for those who are quick to criticize police. This gives some the ability to advance a false narrative to millions who may very well accept it as solid truth.

Often the ones who are the most critical of police are the ones who know the least about officers, their training, or their job.

Since 2015 the City of Milwaukee has spent more than $22 million on settlements with litigants accusing police of misconduct. We not only live in a violent society but also one that is hyper litigious.

And there’s another thing that I just don’t get: Why someone would refuse to obey a lawful order given by a police officer.

Perhaps it’s our society and the way some have been raised – but I don’t truly know. But I will say this: Whenever it (refusal to obey an order) does happen, it never ever ends pretty.

Why anyone in this day and age would want to be a police officer in urban America is beyond me.

On one hand you can attend community meetings and people are clamoring for more cops and increased patrols. But when they do get those patrols that’s when the other half of society ramps up its resistance and the lawsuits start flying.

Our officers are truly damned if they do and damned if they don’t. While I certainly don’t condone it, I can understand why some officers might consider looking the other way and choosing not to engage when driving past incidents of crime.

I truly believe we would all do well, both the police and the community – before we act – to do as Grandpa would and take a deep breath, take a step back, and use a little common sense and treat others as we would want to be treated.

Mentioned in This Press Release

Recent Press Releases by Ald. Bob Donovan

Will No One Have the Courage and Good Sense to Postpone the Spring General Election?

Statement from Alderman Bob Donovan March 31, 2020

In the Stand-Off Between Mayor Barrett and Chief Morales, Residents are the Real Losers

Statement from Alderman Bob Donovan - March 9, 2020

Red Light Cameras Are Not the Cure for What Ails Milwaukee

A Long-Term Solution to Reckless Driving Will Require Leadership

4 thoughts on “Has policing in urban America become an undoable job?”

  1. Eric J. says:

    “Why anyone in this day and age would want to be a police officer in urban America is beyond me.” ???

    -Bob : Several of the officers that arrested the Milwaukee Buck last January were reported to have current salaries of $ 100,000.00. ( That’s why )

    -Not a bad deal. That is still far more than most people in the city earn in a year. ( Not all due to overtime either )

  2. Sam says:

    This press release is rich after seeing that Sterling Brown video.

  3. MONICA says:

    the people are AFRAID of the police- they (most) are THUGS! Sure the city is bad- always has been – why do you think everyone wants to WORK here but not LIVE here. Well- i live here- and its awful. Milwaukee is slowly but surely turning into Detroit Michigan, SUCH A DISGRACE.

  4. frank schneiger says:

    Alderman Donovan’s remarks are worth commenting on because they reflect the views of a large segment of the population, at least of the white population. For starters, he is quite right that mistrust of the police has grown and makes the job much harder, that cops are often dealing with the worst behaviors of some of the worst/most troubled people; and that ubiquitous cameras have made things harder, especially when they are owned by cop haters who seek to exploit every situation.

    BUT – a very big but – when we take Alderman Donovan’s grandfather’s rules, a very different picture emerges. Many, if not most, cops don’t treat people the way that they would want to be treated. And, given the power relationship between the cops and ordinary citizens, the urge to display that power often overwhelms the need for common sense and good judgement. The reality seems to be somewhere between the “few bad apples” and “all cops,” with a police culture that goes back at least to Breier that supports racial stereotyping, bullying and abuses of authority.

    Those cameras are simply recording reality. it may not be the whole reality, but it is reality. (Does anyone think that incidents of police misbehavior started with the cameras?) Which brings us to the Sterling Brown incident. How does Alderman Donovan think that the cops did in adhering to his grandfather’s two rules in this case? What was on open display was what was almost certainly a racially motivated display of NOT treating another person the way you would like to be treated; Along with a similar display of a total lack of common sense by a group of cops, not one of whom intervened to say, “This is ridiculous, we’re sorry, and good night,” without even necessarily knowing that Sterling Brown was a professional basketball player. Brown’s mistake was in not sucking up to the cop, by, in the cop’s eyes, being “arrogant” and “uppity.” And probably by being a Black man driving a Mercedes in Milwaukee.

    Alderman Donovan, exactly how are these cops “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t”? In a strange way, as someone who grew up on 26th and National a long time ago, I recognized the cops’ bullying approach, although I don’t think they would have tasered me for parking my bike crooked in front of the National Liquor Bar. So, sorry, Alderman Donovan, this might score points with some constituents, but it is just another way of avoiding dealing with a real problem in a useful way.

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