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Town Hall Attendees Push For Better Rapport Between Milwaukee Police And Community

Several dozen people shared their ideas Thursday night, on how to build better relations between Milwaukee police and the community. The group, African American Roundtable held a town hall meeting on the north side. We stopped by the gathering and asked people about their concerns.

Sheila Hills lives in Milwaukee’s Metcalfe Park neighborhood. She says the area is struggling, and there are issues that contribute to crime.

“I see a lot of unemployment there and that idles people. It stagnates the neighborhood and I see a lot of boarded up houses.”

Hills says she would like to see more of a police presence in Metcalfe Park. And, by that -- she means officers walking the beat and talking to people.

“Have a little more interaction with us because, I think a lot of our people are afraid of them and they also are afraid of us but I think if they get to know us, they’ll find that we’re good people,” Hills says.

Hills says too often, she sees officers only circling the neighborhood in their squad cars. Another person who dropped into the roundtable was Nate Gilliam. He shared ideas for improving public safety – that don’t necessarily involve the police.

“You hear the narrative about public safety but that shouldn’t just include more policing. That should be something about people being able to secure their lives with living wage jobs or housing or different things that people are really worried about. Crime is an issue, but crime can be alleviated with different programming, not just policing,” Gilliam says.

Gilliam says he would like to see more officers show up at gatherings such as this one. Nate Hamilton facilitated the town hall meeting – his brother Dontre was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer in Red Arrow Park in 2014. He says there needs to be better communication between officers and the people they serve.

“I think when representing the law you always want to explain it properly, you always want to be in a position where it doesn’t always have to lead to arrest, it doesn’t have to always lead to use of force. Their interaction with people has to be way more sensitive, way more understanding,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton says one purpose of the town hall is to share feedback on a federal review of Milwaukee Police department policies, in the wake of his brother’s death.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn requested the review and the U.S. Department of Justice came up with a draft report. Media outlets obtained the report and published it in August. It includes more than 50 findings – with one being that the department doesn’t understand the concept of community policing, and relies too heavily on data.

Progress on a final report has stalled because of the change in presidential administrations – and Hamilton says he doesn’t want it to fall by the wayside. He says it’s up to the community to pick up where the federal government left off.

“I think we need to get together as a community to accumulate some solutions to put forth, so the community can have a voice, not just the Fire and Police commission, not just the Milwaukee Police Department or the Common Council but also the people of this city have a say-so in how we move forward on protecting the safety of our community and also the officers,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton says there will be more meetings – with the African American roundtable holding another town hall on Saturday. Chief Flynn has said the DOJ draft report is full of errors, but recently issued a statement, saying he is committed to building trust between the police department and the communities it serves.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.