Near the end of their hour-long conversation, Mike Gousha asked outgoing Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn what was next for him.
“Really nothing much,” Flynn said. He’s going to go back to Virginia where his family lives and spend more time with his children and grandchildren. Maybe he’ll do some consulting ahead. But, first, “I do need to de-stress a little bit, despite how relaxed I’m appearing.”
The line got a big laugh from the audience in the Lubar Center at Eckstein Hall for the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” on Feb. 8. As he finished a decade as Milwaukee’s police chief, Flynn was fired up, outspoken, and more than a bit emotional and angry.
Flynn went after a lot of people during the program – City Hall politicians, the news media (especially nightly television broadcasts), the American Civil Liberties Union which has sued the police department for discriminating in policing practices, people who think he’s been too soft on crime, people who think he’s been too hard on crime, and people of all stripes who, he said, don’t want to listen to the facts about crime and law enforcement in Milwaukee so that they can continue to say wrong things as if they were facts.
Flynn didn’t back down or admit to almost anything he has been criticized for in recent years, except to admit that he does not suffer fools well, and that’s been a bit of a problem for his political standing.
Flynn returned frequently to the criticism that the police department discriminates against African Americans in arrests and enforcement generally. He cited how many awards the department has won for its use of data and sophisticated techniques and management in policing the city and its success in solving crimes.
The facts show that the great majority of crimes in the city occur in areas with predominantly low income black residents, he said. High-crime areas are also the areas with the highest rates of joblessness, the lowest income, the highest percentage of high school drop outs, and a list of other social problems, he said. “We’re called upon to deal with a symptom of poverty, which is violent crime.”
“We are the first responders to all of the social ills in America,” Flynn said. He said the country as a whole has failed to come up with strategies for dealing with problems such as opioid addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. As a result, many advocates aim their criticism at the police. “It seems that there is no social problem in America so complicated that the solution isn’t more training for the police,” Flynn said.
The fact that police work is concentrated in areas with high minority population is not a sign of discrimination, he argued emphatically. “Disparity is not the same as bias,” he said. Areas with more problems get more attention, and that’s not racial discrimination.
“My greatest frustration over these last few years is race, crime, poverty — crucial issues (that are) co-located –and I’ve been unable to get any of our elected officials in this town to, while they are expressing concerns about police tactics and disparities generated by them, to at the same time entertain the discussion about the grotesque disparities in crime victimization in this community and the impact of crime on the abilities of neighborhoods to rise above poverty itself.“
Flynn said he has been “extremely frustrated” by what he called coordinated efforts “to vilify and demonize this police department for the sole purpose of developing constituencies at our expense.” He warned about what he sees as efforts by some in City Hall to undermine long-standing policies that foster professionalism in police work. He said that other parts of city government are likely to receive similar efforts ahead. And he derided television newscasts for consisting of crime stories aimed at frightening suburban residents, weather forecasts and news about the Green Bay Packers, without examination of issues.
The audience at the Law School did not see someone who wanted to quietly amble off into retirement. But they did see someone with a lot of barbed points that deserve serious thought.
To view the hour-long conversation, click here.