DOJ to review Milwaukee police after requests from chief

Milwaukee is the ninth department to be granted the voluntary review, known as a 'collaborative reform initiative'

By John Diedrich and Ashley Luthern
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MILWAUKEE — The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday it has agreed to review the Milwaukee Police Department, a process expected to take two years and cover all aspects of the agency.

The announcement comes after a request by Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. The agreement will be formally announced Thursday by Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Haanstad and Ronald Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Mayor Tom Barrett and Flynn also will attend.

Milwaukee is the ninth department to be granted the voluntary review, known as a “collaborative reform initiative.” The process is a less adversarial option than a consent decree — formal monitoring through the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division resulting from a “pattern-and-practice” investigation.

The key difference is the requirement for change. Departments under a collaborative review are not legally required to change. A “pattern-and-practice” lawsuit by the federal government can lead to federal oversight of a local law enforcement agency for years.

“Collaborative Reform is neither a formal investigation nor a consent decree but rather a ‘proactive, nonadversarial and cost-effective form of technical assistance’ for agencies committed to reform,” the police department said in a statement Tuesday.

The fact that the Justice Department has granted Milwaukee’s request for a voluntary review doesn’t mean a pattern and practice investigation could not be launched in the future. After he announced he was seeking the review, Flynn said it would not necessarily “inoculate” his department from such an investigation.

But Flynn also said it was his belief the Justice Department would not grant his request if the Civil Rights Division was considering a pattern and practice investigation.

Flynn announced his request last month on the same day federal prosecutors said they would not file criminal civil rights charges against the former Milwaukee police officer who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton.

Jonathan Safran, attorney for the Hamilton family, said he would like to see the pattern-and-practice investigation, but thinks there can be benefit from the review that will be done.

“Despite my desire for the full pattern-and-practice investigation, I still welcome the COPS process being undertaken, with the hope that it will lead to identification of ongoing systemic problems and maybe result in positive changes,” he said.

In a review such as the one that will be done in Milwaukee, federal authorities typically do an initial six-month assessment and give recommendations. Then they spend a year to 18 months following up with the agency and seeing what recommendations have been implemented.

When Flynn requested the federal review, it came soon after the department received state accreditation by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group Inc. Flynn said going through that process was “labor-intensive” and “time-consuming” but should make the department well-prepared for federal authorities.

“We’re just moving right from that into a form of what I would consider federal accreditation,” Flynn said.

Copyright 2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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