MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee police officers will soon have more leeway when it comes to chasing fleeing vehicles. On Thursday, July 13th, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission ordered Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn to modify his department's pursuit policy.
Officers will now be able to go after vehicles that have been identified by the department as high-value targets. That can mean they're associated with drug-related crimes or their drivers have refused to stop for the police in the past.
Critics of the change said they fear more pursuits will only escalate already dangerous situations.
"I am suggesting to the board that we issue a written directive to the chief of police," Steven DeVougas said.
In a unanimous vote Thursday, members of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission ordered Chief Flynn to amend his strict policy on high-speed pursuits, allowing officers to pursue vehicles that are driving recklessly or that are known to be associated with suspects involved in the mobile drug trade.
"So this modifies the existing policy, and gives them more latitude to go after individuals," Alderman Michael Murphy said.
Alderman Murphy was among 13 of the city's 15 Common Council members who urged the FPC to issue this order. Flynn changed the pursuit policy in 2010 to limit chases after several bystanders were killed.
Currently, officers do not initiate a chase unless they have probable cause to believe the suspect committed a violent crime.
"We've seen a 162 percent increase in hit-and-run fatalities," Murphy said.
Murphy said the restrictions have led to an alarming trend: Recent data from an FPC vehicle pursuit report shows criminals are younger and more dangerous behind the wheel than ever before.
"I think that has had a cultural shifting -- where people feel there's no consequences to their actions," Murphy said.
That same data shows more than a quarter of pursuits end in crashes -- often injuring officers and bystanders in the process.
Community activist Vaun Mayes echoed those findings in front of the FPC on Thursday.
"I've firsthand seen and dealt with families who've been injured or killed because of these pursuits. What is happening to alternative methods besides escalating situations?" Mayes said.
Chief Flynn has until July 27th to submit the amended policy to the FPC for approval. Mayor Tom Barrett does have the ability to veto the directive.
On Monday, July 17th, Barrett responded:
"What I will be doing is I will be meeting with the police chief and the Fire and Police Commission to make sure we’re doing the right thing. I want to see what’s happening nationally. I want to see what’s happening from a safety standpoint. I know the chief has a lot of concerns about the safety of his officers, about the public, and I know there’s also concern that people are not obeying the laws because of this policy. One of the misconceptions is, there is a chase policy, and the Milwaukee police last year probably had more chases than they had in recent memory -- so they are out there chasing people," Barrett said.