Commission Directs Milwaukee Police Chief To Make Changes

Jul 21, 2020

A citizen oversight commission has given Milwaukee's police chief a long list of directives as it works to revise the police department procedures. Failing to comply with those directives could lead to discipline against Chief Alfonso Morales, even his termination.

The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) Monday night directed Morales to publicly account for why the department used tear gas during recent civil unrest and change police policies so those chemicals can no longer be used. Other directives range from providing specific files on investigations and discipline, to updates on hiring and promotions.

The FPC requested Morales to provide documents that give more insight into the recent arrest of local activist Vaun Mayes; the police interaction with Kareem McKinley, a man who was arrested in 2018 when police thought he was trying to flee; and the shooting of Tari Davis, a man shot by a Milwaukee police officer chasing another man who allegedly fled from a traffic stop.

>>Activists Being 'Targeted,' Morales Must Go: Milwaukee Organizers Weigh In After Vaun Mayes Arrest

FPC Executive Director Griselda Aldrete is also demanding action in the Sterling Brown case. Brown, a Milwaukee Bucks player, was tased and arrested after initially being approached for double parking his vehicle outside a Walgreens in 2018.

"The board of the Fire and Police Commissioners of the city of Milwaukee does hereby direct Milwaukee Chief of Police Alfonso Morales to audit and present findings including a full investigative file and disciplinary review within 30 days of today’s date to the board regarding the Sterling Brown arrest incident," Aldrete says.

The commission has been working to revise the police department’s procedures on use-of-force, civil disturbances and officer-involved deaths, but has made slow progress. The commission itself is in turmoil with staffing shortages and its chairman under investigation for ethics violations.

In issuing the list, the commission noted that “failure to comply fully and promptly with these directives shall result in disciplinary action by the board, including discharge, suspension, or reduction in rank.”

The commission is one of the most powerful civilian oversight boards in the country. It's responsible for the hiring, firing and promotion of Milwaukee’s police and fire personnel as well as auditing internal investigations, independently investigating and monitoring citizen complaints and reviewing police and fire procedures.

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Fire and Police Commissioners aren’t the only people upset with Morales. Several common council members on Monday issued a statement of no confidence in the chief.

And then there’s his relationship with the public. Some Black and brown community leaders have called for Morales to resign as the relationship between police and Milwaukee’s minority communities has grown even more strained in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and daily protests locally.

Protesters gathered outside Milwaukee City Hall on Monday night.
Credit Susan Bence

Protesters gathered outside of City Hall while the FPC meeting was happening. Norris Robinson says Morales is part of the problem.

"All he’s doing is taking up for people and trying not to go that extra mile. It might take work to go that extra mile. People might not like you after you do what you have to do to get rid of some of these jobs, but he’s not doing it," Robinson says. "So yeah ... I feel like he needs to go, a lot of chiefs need to go and we need to have people who are more loving toward the people. Not just doing their job and trying to be a police chief, they actually need to have love for people – that’s what I feel."

Supporters of Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales stand outside City Hall on Monday.
Credit Susan Bence

While Morales is under fire right now, he also has supporters like Melissa Menge. She was outside of City Hall as well. She says Morales has done a lot of “awesome things for Milwaukee.”

"He knows Milwaukee. He’s risen up through the ranks of Milwaukee police and he’s a grow your own police chief as opposed to someone coming in from outside that doesn’t know the city dynamics, that doesn’t know the city," Menge says.