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Alderman says police chief should be an elected position: ‘Power in the hands of the people’

Alderman Khalif Rainey

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee alderman says voters should decide who the city's police chief is, but other Common Council members say the idea brings back bad memories.

Alderman Khalif Rainey's proposal: ask the state Legislature for the power to turn the chief's position into an elected role.

"Ultimately what I'm trying to do is put the power back in the hands of the people," Rainey said .

The latest attempt to shift control away from the unelected Fire and Police Commission hit a roadblock this week when fellow aldermen raised several issues. Some said it reminded them of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who won four elections before resigning last year amid controversy over deaths at the Milwaukee County Jail and Clarke's frequent out-of-state trips.

Alderman Bob Bauman

"We had a demagogue out of control, and not doing his job -- and he was elected, and nobody could hold him accountable to anything," said Alderman Bob Bauman.

Bauman and other aldermen said they favored different proposals. Last year, the Common Council sought the power to fire a police chief, but the state Legislature didn't approve the plan.

Bauman said the current setup, under which the FPC appoints the police chief and the chief answers to the commission, allows Milwaukee Police brass to sidestep the council's questions.

"We don't get that with the police department. Why? They know they don't have to respond to us," said Bauman.

Alfonso Morales

Alderman Bob Donovan

But Alderman Bob Donovan, who also opposes Rainey's plan, said it's been different since Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales took over this spring.

"I think it's like night and day," said Alderman Donovan.

The council's judiciary committee delayed any action on the resolution seeking to make the chief an elected position. Chairman Mark Borkowski, stating the obvious after his fellow members voiced their opposition, said "I'm not seeing the votes on this committee."

 

Fire and Police Commission

Rainey, who represents parts of Milwaukee's north side, was frustrated by what he saw as a lack of urgency.

"I guess we have to have another unrest. We have to have another Sterling Brown incident," he said, referring to 2016 violence in the Sherman Park neighborhood and the January tasing of a Milwaukee Bucks player, respectively. "Maybe perhaps then the policy will be more ready."

Alderman Khalif Rainey

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has said stripping the Fire and Police Commission of control would only politicize the police department.