A controversial pick for the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission has cleared her first hurdle. On Thursday, the Public Safety and Health Committee voted to send the nomination of Denise Bartlett to the full council later this month.
For critics of Denise Bartlett, it’s not just the fact that for nearly three decades she worked for the Milwaukee Police Department — the entity that as a member of the Fire and Police Commission she would be charged with helping to oversee. Some fear that could lead Bartlett to have a bias toward officers.
But for others, what’s of even more concern is a letter she wrote back in 2012, entitled “Fakers are Real Culprits.” The letter appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was about who Bartlett believes was really responsible for the death of Derek Williams — a young black man who died while in the back of a police car after telling officers he could not breathe. She blamed his death on people who fake as though they are in distress, not police. At a committee meeting on Thursday, Bartlett defended herself.
“I also expressed in that letter sympathy for his family and to the officers who maybe weren’t able to express to them we this all the time. The whole thing was tragic. As I said, I’m dismayed that people aren’t realizing the idea of my letter,” she said.
Bartlett was nominated by Mayor Tom Barrett and said she believes that as a veteran of the police department she would bring diversity to the board. No critics of Bartlett spoke on Thursday but there was one person who questioned her dedication: “What is your level of interest and dedication into being a strong advocate on the FPC for the communities of color in this city that have been disproportionately impacted by law enforcement?”
Bartlett said she watches the Fire and Police commission meetings either live on rerun but has not attended any meetings in person. Alderman Terry Witkowski pointed out that that question has not been asked of any other Fire and Police Commission members and that it is unfair.
In the end, Bartlett received the support of not only the committee but also people who showed up to speak in her favor. Mary Bengsch was one of them.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Denise will be impartial and ensure matters are fairly and thoroughly addressed,” Bengsch said.
The full council will vote on the nomination on May 29.