© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Feds to Review Milwaukee Police Department, Some Community Members Want Deeper Dive

Marti Mikkelson
Ronald Davis of the U.S. Justice Department spoke Thursday at the federal courthouse in downtown Milwaukee.

Federal investigators assured concerned Milwaukeeans on Thursday that significant reforms will be forthcoming in the police department. 

The feds are going to review practices within the MPD and recommend how it can improve.

The move happens in light of Dontre Hamilton’s death. An officer shot and killed him during a scuffle in 2014 in a downtown park where Hamilton was resting.

Police Chief Edward Flynn fired officer Christopher Manney for not following protocol in approaching a person with mental illness and requested this review. Hamilton’s family wants a more rigorous investigation.

Credit Marti Mikkelson
Nate Hamilton speaks with reporters outside the federal courthouse in downtown Milwaukee

The U.S. Justice Department announced in November that it would not file criminal civil rights charges against Manney for killing Dontre Hamilton. The decision prompted Flynn to ask the feds to review his department, and this week, they agreed.

Ronald Davis is director of the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services program. He expects the review to take eight to 10 months. Even though it is a collaborative process, Davis vows that it will be thorough.

“This is extremely deep. This is the same kind of review, assessment and pulling back of the layers of an organization as any other investigation we would do in the Department of Justice. We will look at thousands of pages of documents, uses of force, we will go on ride-alongs, we’ll do interviews,” Davis says.

Davis says agents will identify areas that need improvement and issue recommendations. Then, he’ll spend another year or so, following up with the MPD to make sure it changes.

By Milwaukee requesting a voluntary collaborative review, which results in recommendations, Davis insists that the city is not trying to avoid a pattern and practice investigation. During that harsher review, the Justice Department orders a review of a police department to scour it for racial discrimination.

He believes his department has picked the right tool in Milwaukee’s case.

“This is what we believe at the Department of Justice is the right process for the challenges at this moment. This is not a lesser system. Milwaukee did not duck a civil rights investigation. They basically have opened themselves up for scrutiny,” Davis says.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn was on hand at the news conference. He claims the collaborative effort will produce better results than the more stringent investigation.

“It’s going to succeed because we see this as a true collaboration. This is not an adversarial process, this is not a hostile environment. We’ve worked hard to be the best we can be. We also understand that external review by outside experts is undeniably going to uncover things that we can improve, do more often, do more effectively,” Flynn says.

Yet, supporters and members of the Hamilton family are not satisfied. Several dozen gathered outside the courthouse holding signs that read “End Police Murder."  Dontre Hamilton’s brother, Nate, calls the collaborative review a slap in the face. 

“We will continue to demand a pattern and practice investigation. This investigation that’s taking place will be, what, an eight month process? There’s no way in eight months you can look into all the dirt that this city has caused and all the harm that this city has caused in the last five years alone,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton says what bothers him is the police chief isn’t legally obligated to follow the recommendations the Department of Justice puts forth. Hamilton says his family plans to meet regularly with people involved in the collaboration and continue to demonstrate until they feel justice is served in Dontre’s death.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
Related Content