Police pursuit policy controversy resurfaces after officer dies

Posted at 6:55 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-08 19:55:31-04

MILWAUKEE -- 23-year-old Milwaukee police officer Charles Irvine Jr. and his partner were pursuing a reckless driver Thursday night when they crashed. Authorities said Irvine Jr. was in the passenger seat when the patrol vehicle lost control, resulting in his death. 

Milwaukee's pursuit policy has been a controversial topic over the past year. Last summer, city leaders directed the former police chief to pursue more vehicles in response to a rash of carjackings. The Fire and Police Commission loosened the pursuit policy to include chasing reckless drivers, exactly what the fallen officer's squad was after. 

Less than 24 hours after Irvine Jr. paid the ultimate sacrifice, the last thing Chief Alfonso Morales wanted to talk about was the department's pursuit policy. 

"We loved him," he said. "Can you give us some days to grieve? Please."

Last year, Alderman Bob Donovan was one of several city leaders who pushed for more police pursuits. After the deadly wreck, Donovan said he won't back down from the current police pursuit policy. 

"I believe our officers need to be in a position where they can take action against criminals and lawless behavior that is wreaking havoc," he said. 

Former Chief Ed Flynn originally refused to change the department's pursuit policies, then he was forced to authorize officers to chase drug cars, repeat fleeing vehicles, and extremely reckless drivers. 

"The directive, and I'm saying this as objectively as I can, would create probably the least restrictive pursuit policies in the United States," Flynn said last July. "It is a dangerous direction you are asking us to go."

Milwaukee police used to only chase vehicles involved in violent felonies or those who put the public in danger. 

TODAY'S TMJ4 asked Donovan if Irvine Jr. and his partner would have been directed to pursue the reckless driver before the policy had changed. 

"I don't know enough about it to really comment," replied Donovan.  

Law enforcement expert Robert Willis has a different answer. 

"Probably not," he said. "It was a pursuit for reckless driving."

Chief Morales inherited the current pursuit policy. He has formed a special unit to combat reckless driving.