What is the Fire and Police Commission?
Under Wisconsin law and the Milwaukee City Charter, the Fire and Police Commission oversees all aspects of Fire Department and Police Department operations. The Commission sets overall policy while the chief of each department manages daily operations and implements the Commission’s policy direction and goals. Specific Commission functions also include:
- establishing recruitment and testing standards for positions in the Fire and Police Departments,
- hearing appeals by members of either department who have been disciplined by their Chief,
- independently investigating and monitoring citizen complaints, and
- disciplining employees for misconduct.
The seven part-time civilian Commissioners and full-time Executive Director are appointed by the Mayor and must be approved by the Common Council. The Commissioners serve as the citizens’ voice in police and fire matters and as a means of ensuring more responsive and effective city government. Diversity of background and experience makes the Commissioners’ concerns reflective of the community-at-large, and their priorities include initiatives to reduce crime, increase public safety, and maintain effective responses to fire and medical emergencies. Commissioners serve overlapping five-year terms, with one appointed each year, and receive a nominal salary of $6,600.00 per year. A ten-person staff, headed by the Executive Director, is responsible for carrying out Commission functions. Staff members are employees of the City of Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission is a member of NACOLE, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission has adopted the NACOLE Code of Ethics.
The Milwaukee Board of Fire and Police Commissioners was established in 1885 by state law and is one of the oldest police oversight agencies in the nation. The Commission was originally created to remove the fire and police services from the influences of politics. Until that time, in Milwaukee, as in most cities, chiefs of both departments were appointed by the mayor, who used these appointments, and the appointment of police officers, as a form of political patronage. The new law made the Fire and Police Commission responsible for setting employment standards, testing candidates for positions in the Fire and Police Departments, and appointing both chiefs. In 1911, the Commission’s authority was expanded to include all aspects of operational oversight of the Fire and Police Departments. The Commission’s authority and responsibility are specified in Wisconsin Statute section 62.50, and in the Milwaukee City Charter.
Members of the Fire and Police Departments may appeal to the Commission if they believe they have been unfairly dismissed, demoted, or suspended for more than five days. The Commission may sustain, modify, or reverse the Chief’s action.
Citizens may file a complaint directly with the Police Department or Fire Department. In addition, the Fire and Police Commission has full authority to receive complaints and independently investigate and discipline department employees up to and including termination from employment for acts of misconduct. A person may file a complaint against an employee of the Fire or Police Department for specific acts of inappropriate conduct. Complaints can be initiated in writing, in person, by telephone, by fax, by e-mail, through the Commission website, and through recognized community referral organizations. The Commission also monitors complaints filed directly with the Police Department and Fire Department and reviews their completed investigations.
The Commission, supported by a full-time professional staff, prescribes policies and standards for both the Fire and Police Departments. The Commission exercises this oversight function through regular meetings with both department chiefs and their staff, by conducting research and analysis of policies and procedures, by implementing reforms, and by direct public input through the citizens appointed to the Commission.
Recruitment & Testing
Since 1885, no person has been appointed or promoted to any position in either the Police Department or the Fire Department without Commission approval. The Commission has a long-standing commitment to ensure the public safety workforce is representative of the Milwaukee community. Commission staff administer a variety of examinations, including written, physical ability and oral tests, background investigations, and medical, drug, and psychological screenings. Applicants who pass all components are hired according to their total score on an eligible list. Firefighters and Police Officers are hired at intervals for training classes; other entry-level positions are filled as vacancies occur.
When the position of Chief becomes vacant in either department, the Commission determines qualifications, solicits applications, and appoints the new Chief. Chiefs of both departments are hired for four-year terms, renewable at the Commission’s discretion.
The Commission and its standing committees hold regular meetings and disciplinary hearings. These meetings are open to the public, and members of the community are encouraged to attend. Regular business meetings are held twice each month except August, usually on the first and third Thursdays of the month, at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are usually held in the Common Council meeting rooms on the third floor of City Hall, with periodic meetings held in other community locations. Regular meetings always have a standing agenda item to allow for citizen input on any public safety topic. The meeting time, location, and agenda is published in advance on the Commission website on the Meeting Notices page and through the City of Milwaukee E-notify system.
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