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Civilian oversight committee requires Milwaukee Police Chief Morales make changes to keep his job

During a special session held at City Hall on July 20 amid public protests, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) issued 11 directives for Police Chief Alfonso Morales to comply with or face disciplinary action.

As a civilian board in charge of overseeing the police and fire departments, the commission ordered Chief Morales to create a plan for community policing and implementation of Milwaukee’s mask-wearing mandate, improve his communication with the civilian oversight board, and clarify the MPD’s discipline standards, along with other comprehensive measures of accountability required for the Chief to keep his job.

“Failure to comply fully and promptly with these directives shall result in disciplinary action by the board, including discharge, suspension, or reduction in rank,” said Griselda Aldrete, FPC Executive Director.

The FPC set short deadlines for Morales to comply with the directives, some by the end of July and others in August. The chief and his team stated that they have already complied with some of the directives. The commission appointed Morales to his position as Chief in 2018, after the early retirement of former Chief Edward A. Flynn. His contract was renewed in December 2019, but Morales has faced sharp criticism this year.

The resurgence of the nationwide protest movement against police brutality and racial injustice, after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, brought brought new scrutiny of the Milwaukee Police Department, the behavior of its officers, and its brutal responses to local protests. Most recently, Morales oversaw police attacks on peaceful protesters on June 2, deploying tear gas and expelling rubber bullets against lawfully assembled demonstrators.

Ahead of the July 20 FPC meeting, a large crowd of protestors gathered outside of City Hall. Hundreds of protestors chanted for Morales to be removed as chief. Milwaukee leaders and civic activists have also focused much of their criticism on Chief Morales over his inaction following the killing of Joel Acevedo by Officer Michael Mattioli.

In an open letter, community organizations like Voces de la Frontera and the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP have said that the Chief must go.

“There are two core reasons why Voces de la Frontera wants Morales replaced. First, he refused time and time again to show any understanding of meaningful community engagement. Second, he has lost his credibility by repeatedly and falsely claiming that actions are outside of his power, when in reality he is just failing to do his job and failing to protect Milwaukee communities of color.” – Voces de la Frontera

Voces de la Frontera, a primarily Latinx organization, originally had hope that the background and experience of Chief Morales would provide the ethnic community with much needed support. With Milwaukee’s Latinx population increasingly under political persecution, leadership from Morales was expected to engage the community on important civil rights issues that impacted immigrants, refugees, and other communities of color. But that has not been the case. Voces said it has tried a number of times, without success, to engage with Morales and his representatives on several issues.

“Morales initially denied the need for stronger due process protections in the standing operating procedures between the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), claiming there was no cause for concern.” – Voces de la Frontera

But the need for stronger policies was caught on video in September 2019, when ICE and Milwaukee police surrounded a family car in the process of taking their kids to school. Morales later resisted changing official police procedures in order to ban further cooperation without a judge’s warrant.

In two separate statements, 10 of the 15 members of the Milwaukee Common Council called for better leadership of the MPD, lacking faith in the current chief. Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Alderman José G. Pérez, and Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa jointly said that:

We need a leader who will unite, not divide, our city. We need someone who will work with us closely to reallocate funds in order to improve the health and safety of all in our city. We need a person invested in building peace and making Milwaukee welcoming for all. We need a Chief who will listen to our community and consider the requests of peaceful protestors. This is the way our city can thrive post pandemic, challenge systemic racism, change the culture within our police department, and protect our city.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Alderman Nik Kovac, Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderman Russell W. Stamper, and Alderman Khalif J. Rainey jointly said that the pattern of failed leadership by Chief Morales was unmistakable and devastating.

The Chief failed to fire Officer Michael Mattioli for the off-duty chokehold death of Joel Acevedo, even though he had one month to do so before the Fire and Commission took over the disciplinary investigation. And he still has taken no disciplinary action against the officer who knelt on the neck of a face-down, prone protester near 6th and McKinley in the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis (he called it “justified”), and that officer, who took one knee off the back of someone’s neck just long enough so that he could use the other knee to pummel that person’s stomach, is still on duty.

That incident happened while so-called “less lethal” munitions – tear gas and rubber bullets – were being used to attempt to injure hundreds of peaceful protestors. Many of them were on their knees chanting “We are peaceful. Are you peaceful?” just before the barrage of chemical irritants and projectiles were intentionally fired. The Chief and his command staff have expressed no regret over that outrageous violation of our citizens’ civil liberties, and have used an empty plastic water bottle that caused no injury to anyone as the primary evidence for why such shocking action was necessary.

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