Flynn’s Milwaukee 911 Reform: Risks of Challenging Policing’s Status Quo


Governing magazine describes Differential Police Response, the 911 system instituted by Milwaukee's reform-minded police chief, Ed Flynn. When he arrived four years ago, Flynn found a department “trapped in amber”–most officers were focused on clearance rates and response times rather than on preventing crime. To make more police officers visible in high-crime neighborhoods, he needed manpower. Changing the way his department dealt with 911 calls was one way to do that.

Instead of dispatching “the armed authority of the state to your living room,” he reasoned, there was no reason that for certain types of calls — nuisance or noise complaints or stolen property reports — a police officer couldn't handle it by picking up the phone and making a call. Today, about 13 percent of dispatched calls for service in Milwaukee are handled over the phone by one of the police department's seven DPR units. Flynn's attempt to curb 911 and rethink the role of patrol officers have made him into a figure of national significance. In Milwaukee, Flynn's reforms have created powerful critics, most notably the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has run stories that question the department's crime statistics and its response times. The pushback from a respected paper and other critics raises the question: Are the risks of challenging policing's status quo worth the rewards?

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