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Survey Shows Majority Support For Milwaukee Policing

Critics Say Report Glosses Over Tensions With Minorities


Police-community relations are a hot issue in Milwaukee given the case of Dontre Hamilton and other black men over the decades who have died while in police custody. Results of a new study show a majority of Milwaukee residents are at least somewhat satisfied with the city’s police, but the study itself has generated controversy.

Late last summer, public opinion researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee polled more than 1,400 people about their view of the city’s police department following a request from a Milwaukee alderman.

Law enforcement officials released the findings on Thursday night, during a meeting of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.

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Pollsters said they tried to get a wide cross-section of the city, weighting their results to balance the input of demographic groups that might have been under or overrepresented.

About 25 percent of respondents said they’re very satisfied overall with the police and another 50 percent are somewhat satisfied. The approval ratings by African-American residents were lower.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said he isn’t satisfied with the result but concluded that the picture isn’t entirely bleak.

“An overall approval rating of 73 percent is pretty remarkable in public life. And even at the low end, in the African-American community, it’s 62 percent,” Flynn said. “That’s still higher than any elected official that I’m aware of, but what’s important for us is to close that gap. You know, poor people of color in this city are the most intense users of police services, and we are engaged with them in the most complex set of ways.”

Flynn added that he hopes the police department will use the results to guide department training and education.

Critics of the police said the survey — or at least department’s interpretation of the findings — falls short in several ways.

Nathaniel Hamilton is a brother of Dontre Hamilton, the black man killed by a Milwaukee police officer last April during an altercation in a park. Nathaniel Hamilton said not enough was heard from people who deal with the police on a daily basis.

“Did they mention teenagers? No. There’s a lot of young black men, young black women that are harassed and antagonized every day. So, where are those surveys?” Hamilton asked.

Several dozen supporters of Dontre Hamilton attended Thursday night’s meeting. Seven remained silent during their two minutes of speaking time, to symbolize the silence they said they got from local officials while waiting for details of Hamilton’s death.

The Fire and Police Commission will form a subcommittee for further analysis of the police-community survey and discussion of possible additional research.