Chief Flynn, Sheriff Clarke meet publicly to discuss bus safety

MILWAUKEE -- A "frank discussion on the status of public safety" between Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Wednesday became all about the Milwaukee County Transit System buses.

For the first time, at least publicly, Flynn and Clarke met to discuss the Milwaukee County Transit System and safety for bus riders. "If Ed's got some resources and he can help me out in the parks and the buses, I say 'thank you,'" Clarke said. "It's not a major resource strain because I don't have to have a dedicated unit," Flynn said.

Recent fights caught on camera on Milwaukee County Transit System buses have sparked a small controversy over the safety of riders. Clarke used the situation to publicly call for more funding, while Flynn to the growing public fear as a sign to step in. "We're out there, we're visible, we're available, we respond," Flynn said.

However, the move to put Milwaukee Police Department officers on County buses was without warning, and has since put the two top safety officials at odds. For Clarke, even a phone call in advance would have sufficed. "That would have been more collaborative than, 'well, he says it can't be done, then we'll do it,' and 'we don't want to hear excuses.' I didn't appreciate that," Clarke said.

Attitudes appeared to slowly change during the meeting Wednesday. It was the first time both men could listen to each other, without the spin of local media. They agreed mass transit is vital to the health and well-being of the community as a whole. They also agreed recent videos have brought a safety problem to light, and they agreed citizen confidence in the bus system is at the heart of the problem, not the amount of crime. "The challenge there is to restore community confidence," Flynn said.

The committee, which included Flynn, Clarke and some aldermen, informally proposed the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department, Milwaukee Police Department and the private security firm hired to police the buses sit down together to create a joint deployment plan. Aldermen also suggested an added focus on the image of the bus system, and trying to give riders a positive perception.