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'I want to do something bigger': Pittsburgh Police Commander finalist for MPD Chief

Posted at 6:49 PM, Oct 06, 2020

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission announced its six finalists for the position of Milwaukee Police Chief. Over the next week, TMJ4 News will be interviewing each candidate to see why they believe they are the best fit for the position.

While each person will answer different questions, all six will answer three core questions facing the community of Milwaukee:

  • What examples are you proud of in your career as it relates to working with communities of color?
  • What have you done to promote racial and social justice issues within those communities?
  • Why do you want to be the Chief of Police in the City of Milwaukee?

One of the six candidates hails from Pittsburgh, Pa. He’s been with the Bureau of Police there for 20 years, but wants to bring his experience building bridges between police and communities of color.

“I started to realize, I wanted to do something bigger,” Commander Jason Lando said. “Eventually, I wanted to see if we could take some of these things that we implemented.”

Lando says he’s wanted to be in law enforcement ever since he was a child. He’s climbed the ranks with Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Police and is actually eligible to retire. However, he feels he has more to give and wants to take that passion to Milwaukee.

“We were able to make a lot of really remarkable strides and build a lot of trust in the community,” Lando said. “We developed some pretty innovative programs that we rolled out.”

Those programs were aimed at bridging the divide between officers and the community. However, it will be much different in Milwaukee. Pittsburgh’s population (300,286) is about half the size of Milwaukee’s (590,157) and the makeup is much more diverse. The US Census says Pittsburgh’s non-white population is 33.1 percent. In Milwaukee, the non-white population is 55.4 percent.

But Lando feels he can do it.

“I think it’s all about making personal connections with people,” Lando said. “That’s so important. One of the things I learned early on, you can’t lead from behind a desk. I like to be out with the public. I like to be out with the officers. I think it’s really important that both the officers and the public see that their leaders are walking the walk.”

He points to his experience in Pittsburgh’s Zone 5; an area with a large African American population.

“All eyes were on me, some of the community leaders told me,” Lando said. “Some of the ones I developed close relationships with. They said they were watching and they wanted to see what kind of leader I was going to be. I just made sure to be very present and available to the community.”

That availability means more communication. It’s something Lando says could be a fault of his; that he is overly communicative and overly transparent. However, he feels it’s necessary to better relationships with the community.

He also believes in creating those bonds young. As much as he’s enjoyed the typical “Coffee with a Cop” type events, they don’t really translate well with the youth.

“We had to find a way to really reach out to that group and start to make connections,” Lando said. “Inviting a teenager from a largely Black community to come hang out at Starbucks with a police officer in uniform, it just wasn’t cutting it. We design initiatives with the community’s voice, with what they feel is going to be most impactful.”

To change that, Lando and his colleagues went to where the kids were: school. They would show up in plain clothes, no squad cars, no badges, no uniforms. Just citizens coming for a discussion with the kids.

Of course, they bring pizza to start it all off. But after a while, they reveal that they are in fact police officers.

“They say, wait a minute,” Lando said. “You’re all cops? How is that possible? You’re like normal human beings and are cool. I say, yeah, we’re just people. That’s who we are. The whole point of the exercise is, they thought we were cool until they figured out, we were cops. The rest of the afternoon, they can stand up and talk freely to the room about their experiences with law enforcement. Some tell funny stories. Some tell sad stories. Some of the people in the room have been arrested or the parents of some of these kids. It’s really a deep and impactful session that we do.”

This is one initiative that has gone a long way in rebuilding trust within the communities. In the year after starting some of these initiatives, Lando says they saw a 40 percent reduction in complaints against officers.

“The whole focus of all the things that we did was to kind of see beyond the uniform and see beyond what neighborhood you live in or what your skin color is,” Lando said. “To really get to know people as people.”

Milwaukee is wrought with issues related to race; often referred to as the most segregated city in the country. The 414 has been in the spotlight because of these issues between the African American community and police, from Dontre Hamilton to Sterling Brown and many others.

It’s not something foreign to Lando either. Antwon Rose Jr., 17, was shot and killed by police in Pittsburgh in 2018. It was a case that received national attention, with protests and unrest similar to what we have seen in Milwaukee, Kenosha and nationwide.

“People have a lot of anger, and rightfully so,” Lando said. “Whether a shooting ends up being deemed justifiable or not, it’s still important to acknowledge the pain and the anger in the community, and the frustration.”

If he’s made Chief, Lando says whether they do something right or do something wrong, he will address it. If an officer is out of line, they will be held accountable.

“We owe it to the community and the profession to hold ourselves accountable and be transparent with the public,” Lando said. “We do a huge disservice, whether we’re right in the situation or wrong, we do a disservice when we don’t come out and make a statement. We owe it to the community to say, hey, we messed up. We’ll hold ourselves accountable and we’re going to do better next time.”

Lando says after the Rose incident, he was concerned about the damage it would do to the relationships he had built with the community in his area. But he connected with organizers to learn about their protests, even helping block streets for them when they could so they and the officers could stay safe. That kind of respect only strengthened the relationships they had started to cultivate.

“We realized the relationships hadn’t been damaged,” Lando said. “The community members said, we want to know our police officers are out there doing the right thing. We don’t want to see police defunded. We need the police in our neighborhoods. We just want you to act ethically and do the right thing. You’ve shown us in neighborhoods, you do the right thing. I think that says a lot about our officers and about the community.”

Lando also teaches implicit bias training. He says it’s important to acknowledge, implicit bias exists everywhere, including law enforcement. However, he says they can learn how to manage it.

“Everyone makes mistakes but you got to realize what they are and own it,” Lando said. “So, the next time you’re in that position, a little light bulb comes on in your head. Oh yeah, I got myself in trouble the last time I was in this position. I need to not do that again.”

With all that said, he’s not forgetting about violent crimes. Milwaukee is facing an overwhelming increase in homicides and non-fatal shootings.

But in order to combat that, Lando won’t forego the work the department needs to do on rebuilding relationships with communities of color.

“It’s not an option,” Lando said. “We have to do both. Is there a way that we can refocus our officers so they can better fight crime and do the good work in the community?”

Lando is also a semi-finalist for a chief position in Arlington, Tx. If offered both positions, he says he would have to discuss with his family before making a decision. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission expects to have a decision on who will be the next Chief in Milwaukee by December 3.

Here are the other candidates being interviewed for Milwaukee Police Department's Chief:

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