New Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission Chair Ed Fallone Talks Priorities
Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission has been a model for cities looking for more civilian oversight of police and fire departments. But recently the commission has faced criticism over perceived scandals and missteps. The demotion of former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, and all that has followed it, has only added to the controversy surrounding the commission.
Still, a lot has changed at the commission since this began, like the appointment of three new members including the new chair: Ed Fallone. Milwaukeeans may remember Fallone as a 2020 Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate. He’s also an associate professor of law at Marquette University Law School who has been working in Milwaukee for decades.
Lake Effect's Joy Powers recently talked with Ed Fallone about his priorities for the commission. Here are some excerpts from their conversation:
What about your experience makes you a good fit for this position, leading the Fire and Police Commission?
“In addition to being a law professor and having expertise in constitutional law and white collar crime, I've spent almost 30 years in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin serving on nonprofits in the community and focusing on things like access to lawyers, and the justice system, intervention with at-risk youth and on the south side of Milwaukee to keep them out of gang activity, and the rights of immigrants in our in our community. And so if one looks at public safety, holistically, I think it makes sense.”
The commission has been mired in controversy in part due to the ethics concerns with former Chair Steven DeVougas. How do you plan to hold yourselves accountable in cases where commissioners abuse their power?
“I think when you have civilian oversight, when you have community members who’ve stepped forward and are willing to do the work, you're not pulling from a pool necessarily of lawyers and professionals and of people with expertise in this area. You’re pulling from your community and leaders in your community. And so I certainly don't think it's helpful to be hypercritical of individuals from the community who step forward and take on this role. I think that when you have civilian oversight, these civilians need support and there is an excellent professional staff at the Fire and Police Commission who help us."
With this oversight comes a lot of responsibility. How do we ensure that commissioners are using that responsibility responsibly?
“We do have the professional staff … who only work for the Fire and Police Commission and who, in my limited tenure thus far, I can tell you are are very good in monitoring and training and reminding the commissioners of applicable rules, whether it's the ethics requirements, or the open meetings law in Milwaukee. The staff has a very strong interest in making sure the commission works effectively and under the law and the applicable guidelines. And secondly, certainly, I can assure any listener as chair of the committee that I have substantial experience on boards of directors, I certainly have professional experience with legal requirements relating to governance, whether it's corporate for-profit boards or nonprofit boards. And so I certainly have my antenna up to make sure that that the Board of Commissioners operates effectively and lawfully.”
What are your plans for the commission to improve its relationship with the community?
“I believe we have to do more community outreach. I think it's necessary for the commissioner to reach out to the public to educate the public about the role of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission — what we can do, the power and independence that we have, and I think that will help the public understand that there is a body that is responsive to their needs. We receive and investigate directly, citizen complaints against the police and so people should feel that they have a voice in city government and and in the oversight of the police. The second thing I’ll say is that we also oversee the recruitment and training of our police department. … We can make improvements in our training as it relates to interactions with people undergoing a mental health crisis, training in relation to dealing with individuals who are under the influence of a controlled substance training, in terms of dealing with individuals who have suffered trauma in the past.”
As we look to the future, what do you see as the top goals for the commission?
“I think that certainly having a positive relationship with a permanent police chief is vitally important, so that the commission and the police chief are on the same page in terms of policing strategies and objectives. … We need to address issues of the makeup of the police department. Certainly, there's very strong interest among some commissioners to continue to look at residency and trying to have police officers who actually come from the community they serve. And so that is going to be recruitment; retention is going to be a concern going forward. … I would like to see that citizen complaint process strengthened to the extent we can make it more accessible to people in the public. So that when when there is an incident, people in the public can feel if they have a concern about police tactics, that there is a place they can go and be heard.”