The recent uprisings in Sherman Park have once again brought the conflict between the black community and the Milwaukee Police Department to attention.
Mike Crivello is the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, and he’s been a member of the force since he was hired in 1991. Crivello has done just about everything a cop can do, from walking a beat to being a "suit and tie" detective. He was on the elite vice control division and has investigated hundreds of crimes in the city. As president of the union, Crivello represents about 1,500 members.
We recently sat down with him for this latest installment of Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee: This is a turbulent time to be a police officer, nationally and in Milwaukee. In your time in law enforcement, is this as difficult a time to be a cop that you’ve ever seen?
Mike Crivello: It absolutely is the most difficult time that I have experienced in my entire career. It started shortly after (Police Chief) Ed Flynn came to town and started to dismantle the department. We had a department that was trusted and respected across the nation. People would actually visit to see how we were solving crime and getting things done.
It has flipped upside-down. I’d argue that we are seeing the same problems across the nation because these chiefs have adopted policing in the new millennium and then forgot the fundamentals of policing. They forgot the blocking and tackling and getting out and understanding communities. Rather, they have shifted to the big-data picture.
I think the chief would argue that he and his department are engaged in community policing and he wants his officers to be part of the communities they serve and protect. Is that a reality?
I don’t think you can be engaged in community policing if the way you demonstrate your outreach to the community is how many traffic stops can I get? More recently, he mandated – and he’ll deny this – but there is ample evidence that there is an absolute conversation that they left with the mandate that each officer will perform two traffic stops per day. And if they don’t perform those stops, they will be disciplined up to and including termination.
What happens is that hardworking people, pastors and mothers, are being pulled over just to fill the square. That’s not community policing. Community policing is having a force that is large enough where you can have beat officers that can walk the beats, stop to talk to the person sitting on their porch or raking their leaves.
At the same time, the guys who are in patrol, if they are fortunate to not have assignment after assignment, can go over and do the same thing. We don’t have that anymore. Once we did.
Why would he require every officer to have two traffic stops?
He would say that there is a study that shows that the more traffic stops you have gives you a greater opportunity to find crime. I’d argue that here in Milwaukee, we have always worked for quality of stops rather than quantity. Traffic stops do reveal crime, but in a case where you no longer can pursue someone, you are now forced to stop the people who are allowing you to stop them. You’re not catching the bad guy. The bad guy runs.
I would suggest to you that there are neighborhoods in this town that are dangerous and where I wouldn’t want to be a cop walking a beat. In those situations, do you need two cops walking the beat?
We absolutely need two cops walking the beat or on patrol together. I tell you, 25-plus years ago, when I started, we had two guys to a squad. It makes us more effective and more efficient. With a single squad, if he gets a call that someone’s screaming for help he doesn’t have to stop down the block and wait for backup. For a disturbance, he’s got to wait for backup.
Our guys are going to answer a call no matter what situation they’re put under. The problem is that they should not have to respond to a call when they’re by themselves.
Fear has to play a role in a cop’s life. A sense of uncertainty when you’re on the beat or in a squad. Wondering about what could happen to him or her that night. Does that fear make you less effective as a cop?
It’s important to recognize and embrace your fears. If your fear overcomes you, then you are ineffective. The greater issue with fear is our officer’s parents at home or their spouses and children at home that are fearful whether or not their loved one is going to make it home. That’s where the stress of the job really reveals itself. Can you imagine being awakened in the dead of night and rushed to a hospital because your husband has been shot? It’s happened and you can see this stress on families all the time. And that stress has an impact, a big impact, on our officers.
The mayor is working on his budget, and he says that he is going to provide more money for more officers and better equipment. Is there a number that you have in your head that would bring the police force to a place that will make the city safer?
That’s difficult to say. But I would say to you that we once had an established authorized strength that came from study that this is the number that we should have. I continually argue about the authorized strength and the actual number of officers in the street. There was a large number, the disparity between the two.
The mayor just took an eraser and erased 100 from the authorized strength so it doesn’t look so bad. We are at least 300 down from where we should be. Some aldermen are talking about raising taxes so we can have a "surge" of 150 officers. There is no surge. We wouldn’t be bringing us up to where we should be. We do need to expand the budget because we can’t do what we should do.
We are facing mass retirements, and we need to find answers to how we incentivize these people so they stay on the force. Even if he hires 300, we are still in a bad situation, and we know we are going to retire 300; how are we moving ahead? We are bobbing in the ocean with our head barely above water.
You can incentivize them with money or benefits. But what role does public support, a sense that we as a community value them, play in the life of a cop?
It’s not just about money. I’ll tell you that officers come to this job as a calling. They really want to do something. That’s the majority of the guys. How do we affect the morale to the point that the coppers feel they are appreciated. So often we hear the vocal minority bashing the police while there are so many who do support us.
There is a natural friction between a union leader and a boss – in this case, you and the chief. If you step back from that natural friction, what do you think of him? Is his heart in the right place at least? Does he want to have a great police force?
I understand that management has a mission, and the way they accomplish it is by the utilization of labor. There has to be some give and take. I’ve seen a lot of take from the chief but not a lot of give. I’ve offered him lots of ideas about how to get more bang for the buck, but it always derails because it’s not his idea or agenda.
I really think he is stuck on the policing in the new millennium; do the same amount with much less – much less manpower, but more technology. At the end of the day, you need the boots on the ground. You have to find what that perfect number is.
I think the chief is too political. He’s found himself to be too much of a political officer. He sacrificed an officer (Christopher Manney, who shot Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park). Where I once thought that he represented himself as a general that the troops would like to follow, he’s proven me wrong on that. He’s articulate; he presents himself well as long as he’s on his topic.
Every organization has members who are problems. The same can be said for your union, I’m sure. What do you do about it? How do you find those cops, and what is your reaction to them when you do?
What I’d like to see happen is having a better mentoring program where we foster the growth of our future leaders, rather than one day you’re a cop, then you’re a sergeant and then you’re a lieutenant. You get promoted so fast there’s no chance to learn how to be a leader.
When we have an officer go astray, yeah, there’s personal responsibility and I hold them responsible. But I’ve had this conversation with the chief about how you pay someone above that cop to watch him and someone above him. To supervise him. To grow him into the officer this community deserves.
Often when you find an officer that screws up, does something that’s wrong, did he just do it that one time or has he been getting closer and closer and his supervisor didn’t notice? Every organization is going to have a cop who does something we wish they had never done. It’s a stain on all the police officers, and a lot of cops don’t want us trying to keep the job for that guy. We just try to make sure the process is fair and then it’s up to the Fire and Police Commission.
Is Christopher Manney an example of an officer who went astray? (Ed note: Manney was answering a call in Red Arrow Park in April 2014. He frisked Dontre Hamilton, a 31-year-old man with a history of mental issues who had been sleeping in the park. A confrontation ensued, Hamilton took Manney’s baton and Manney shot Hamilton 14 times, killing him. The killing spawned a series of protests and gave momentum to the movement to have police equipped with body cameras and receive crisis intervention training.)
I’d be more than happy to talk about Christopher Manney. He was doing his job. There is another one of the falsehoods spoken about in the community, that is that "hands up, don’t shoot" never happened. The fact that the individual who lost his life at Red Arrow Park was unarmed is a falsehood. He took the baton from Christopher Manney and began to beat him about the head with it. That’s a problem. He feels terrible about it. He did not come to work that day to do something like this. He came to work. And when the situation went sour, he did his best as he could to address the situation.
But he shot Hamilton 14 times. I think that’s one of the things that people react to. It seems like a lot of shooting for one man.
What do they teach you at the academy? You shoot to stop the action. We don’t shoot to kill; we shoot to stop the action. One witness said that he could hear the gunshots, but it was as though he was firing blanks because the guy didn’t stop. If he would have stopped, the shooting would have stopped. Understand, too, that 14 shots is pretty quick. If he had said, "Officer, nothing going on here," nothing would have happened. If a perpetrator says he doesn’t want to fight, there’s no fight. We don’t want to fight. We want to go home and play catch with our kids.
Let me ask you kind of a global question. There is a severe schism between the black and white communities, and the police, in this city. How would you fix things? Not just police things, but fix the bigger things?
I’ve tried many times to impress on our civic leaders that we all have a responsibility to tell the truth. First of all, we have to realize our commonalities. For the majority, 99.9 percent, we all pray to the same god.
We truly are all brothers and sisters. So what are we fighting about? We don’t talk enough about the things we have in common. We talk about the differences, and we let them fester until they explode. In my career as a police officer and in the military, I have learned that I don’t care what you look like, what your culture is; we can live together. We don’t have those issues among ourselves; it’s the community that clashes, and so often that’s fabricated.
I live in Riverwest and drove by a drug house the other day. I was amazed at how brazen it was. Young guys standing outside as a parade of cars swept by, buying drugs. And I thought that most of those guys selling were probably carrying guns, waiting to use them. How do you reach those kids?
Before the chief got here, we had a vice control division to handle things just like that. The street drugs and prostitution and stuff like that. In one day, he wiped out vice. One hundred officers, wiped out.
The attitude of those criminals is born in the belief that nothing is going to happen to them. Nothing. Tell me that's not a problem.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.