Ed Flynn was a complete outsider to Milwaukee. The city’s police chief from 2008 to 2018, he never lived in Milwaukee before he became chief, he left Milwaukee as soon as he was done, and some people questioned how much he was connected to the life of the city as a whole while he was serving as chief.
Alfonso Morales, Flynn’s successor, is a complete insider to Milwaukee. Born in the city, grew up on N. 33rd St., graduated from Milwaukee Tech High School, as it was then called (it’s now Bradley Tech). After graduating from Carroll College, he became a Milwaukee police officer and rose through the ranks until he was named chief in February 2018.
Flynn appeared several times at “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” programs at Marquette Law School. Morales was an “On the Issues” guest for the first time on Thursday (Sept. 13, 2018). The differences between them in personal styles, in priorities, and in connecting with the community were clear.
For starters, Flynn was tuned into the cutting edge of thinking nationally on police practices, with a strong emphasis on use of data and strategic deployment of officers in areas of high crime. In his session on Thursday, Morales stressed the need for police to connect with the community, serve all the neighborhoods of the city, and respond to the things people care about the most, including how fast police respond to calls and doing more about dangerous and wild driving on city streets.
Flynn put a large number of officers in a section of the north side where a disproportionate amount of the city’s crime occurs. Morales called that a flawed theory, both because it alienated some people in that area and because it left many people in other parts of the city feeling underserved by police. Flynn got rid of the gang unit and the vice squad as he restructured the department. Morales is restoring a unit called the intelligence unit that picks up those functions.
Morales said that he wants to build and rebuild relationships between the police department and community groups, as well as between individual officers and people who live in areas that those officers regularly serve. “Let’s work together and see what we can do,” Morales said, describing his goal for community relations.
Morales responded to questions from Gousha and audience members that ranged from increased homicides to minority employment within the department to police brutality to the Sterling Brown incident in which a member of the Milwaukee Bucks was tased by officers. Even as Morales spoke at the law school, news broke that he had fired an officer for what the officer wrote on social media in the aftermath of the Brown incident.
As Morales recounted his personal story, Gousha asked him about an incident in 2002. As a jury was delivering a guilty verdict against a man named Laron Ball, Ball jumped across the courtroom table where he was seated and tried to escape out a courtroom window. Two sheriff’s deputies tried to subdue him, but Ball grabbed a gun from them and wounded one of them with a shot in one of his legs. A Milwaukee police detective in the courtroom pulled out his gun and shot Ball dead.
The detective was Morales. Gousha asked how that incident affected him. Morales said it changed him in several ways. “The things you see, the things you do (in the line of duty) — I will tell you this, the one thing it has done to me is it got me closer to God.” His voice got thicker and he appeared to be close to tears as he said, “It affected my wife more than anyone can imagine.” He said, “With your family, it’s a big deal.”
A new officer is immature in some ways, Morales said, adding, “The job will mature you.” He said he called on what he learned from the Ball episode when he met with officers who worked with Michael Michalski, a police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty in July.
Gousha asked Morales what he wanted people to know about Milwaukee police officers. “We have good people, good-hearted people, on the Milwaukee Police Department,” Morales responded. They take the job because they want to make positive differences for the city. Morales urged people to “walk in our shoes.”
To view video of the one-hour program, click here.