Proposal to change the way police, fire chiefs are hired in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The next time Milwaukee needs a police or fire chief, the hiring process could be different, according to a proposal that would take this process out of the hands of the city’s Fire and Police Commission.

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines wants the formula for hiring police and fire chiefs changed. 

“Residents want a direct line of accountability. If we were able to allow the mayor to appoint, allow the Council to confirm, when incidents occur throughout the city, residents can bring it directly to their elected representative and we can hold various departments accountable,” Hines said.

One incident that has drawn controversy from the community is the death of Derek Williams. Williams died in the back seat of a squad car after he was seen on dashcam video struggling to breathe, and citizens went to the Fire and Police Commission to voice their outrage and question the police chief’s employment.

The law gives the power to the Fire and Police Commission to hire and fire chiefs, and has done so for hundreds of years.

“Policies evolve. I mean this was put in place in the 1800s. Is the Fire and Police Commission relevant? Of course, they are. As we move forward they will still have an active role, just need a better balance. Currently, I think the balance needs to be shifted more towards the elected representatives,” Hines said.

Although Mayor Barrett doesn’t currently appoint chiefs, he does appoint members of the Fire and Police Commission and has an influence there.

“Frankly, I have a lot of input on the selection of the new chief, whether it’s a police chief or a fire chief, so I don’t feel that my hands are tied,” Mayor Barrett said.

However, Mayor Barrett added he would be in favor of a change in the law.

Hines says the next step is to convince state lawmakers to change the law, so the mayor can appoint the chief and the Council can confirm.

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