Policy changes approved: MPD officers now allowed to pursue reckless vehicles, mobile drug traffickers
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission on Thursday evening, September 7th approved a proposed revised pursuit policy that would allow Milwaukee police officers to pursue vehicles involved in reckless driving and suspected mobile drug trafficking.
Four years ago, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn changed the pursuit policy after several innocent bystanders were killed.
"There are people I report to. That is the nature of my business," said Chief Flynn.
Police Chief Ed Flynn drafted up new rules after the Fire and Police Commission demanded changes and threatened his job if he didn't follow through.
Officers once restricted to only chasing vehicles suspected of being involved in violent crime, now have discretion to follow drug dealers, reckless drivers and more. The new rules could drastically increase the number of chases. Something that most city aldermen say is needed.
"I'm really happy for the Fire and Police Commission. They really held the chief's feet to the fire," said Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy.
Alderman Michael Murphy was among those who wrote to the FPC demanding police chase more often, saying reckless driving is out of control with innocent people dying.
Alderman also believe bad guys exploit the restrictive police policy knowing they will not be chased. Aldermen hope not anymore.
Police chases can come with deadly risks. The FPC's own report says more chases means more innocent bystanders and officer injuries and deaths -- and a majority of the time the bad guys still get away from chases.
"It's obviously going to result in more risk to the community. Just as obviously the community has expressed to the city council they want to see more pursuits because of reckless driving behavior. So that's the position we're in," said Flynn.
Alderman Murphy said he is glad to see the revised policy come forward.
“I want to again thank the Fire and Police Commission for listening to members of the public and the Common Council on this issue,” Murphy said in the release. “Reckless driving and at times a climate of lawlessness on our streets has put our citizens in danger and it will be empowering for officers to now have a clearer path for apprehending people who break the law and think they can just drive away.”
According to the FPC, between January and May of 2017 there was a 53% increase in the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents and a 160% increase in the number of hit-and-run fatalities compared to the same time period in 2016. Furthermore, between January and April of 2017 there were more than 600 vehicles every month fleeing from MPD during traffic stops, a number that has increased year by year, often in excess of 100%, according to the release.
Advocates for policies that limit chasing warn the new policy will result in deadly results.
"As you continue to loosen the policy, more innocent bystanders and innocent drivers who get caught up in these cases will be hurt. And likely at some period of time will be killed," says Jonathan Farris. Farris' son was an innocent bystander killed by a police pursuit. He launched Pursuit for Change to advocate for anti-chase policies. He said Milwaukee's previous policy was considered one of the best in the country.
"It’s not that the officers aren’t good but many times in the heat of the moment situations, not all the information is available. So if you leave the door wide open then there end up being more pursuits, says Farris.
The FPC states that perpetrators fleeing from traffic stops are issued citations for the offense only 20% of the time.
The FPC passed the changes Thursday, so officers now have more discretion. However, police supervisors still have the power to call off chases they feel are too dangerous.
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