The City of Fitchburg is hiring a new Chief of Police. Earlier this week, the city narrowed the list of finalists, announcing two finalists for the job: Vic Siebeneck, a captain in the Salt Lake City Police Department, and Alfonso Morales, the controversial former police chief of Milwaukee.
Morales was removed as Milwaukee’s Chief of Police last August by a unanimous vote from Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission. That came after numerous complaints about his handling of last summer’s protests. Morales then sued the city of Milwaukee after a court ruled he was improperly demoted, and details of a $627,000 financial settlement with the city are still being finalized.
Milwaukee-based civil rights organizations, such as the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, have opposed Morales’ hiring as a police chief again anywhere. The Milwaukee-based immigrants rights organization Voces de la Frontera adamantly opposes his Fitchburg candidacy.
“Many people of color organizations were extremely disappointed in his failed leadership and are grateful that he’s gone. He is unfit to represent in that capacity the city that has a significant percentage of people of color, as the City of Fitchburg does,” says Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces.
“We were working on updating the standard operating procedure for immigration and racial profiling. It required the intervention of the Fire and Police Commission to force his hand to meaningfully engage with us to update that. Not just Voces, but many people of color, shared a common experience with [Morales] being arrogant, dismissive, and having no meaningful dialogue around issues like police accountability.”
Last week, the City of Fitchburg held a public forum with the candidates. At the time, there were two additional candidates for the position: Scott Kleinfeldt, a Lieutenant with the Madison Police Department, and Tony Ruesga, Chief of the Cross Plains Police Department, were finalists along with Siebeneck and Morales.
WORT asked Morales at the forum about how he would respond to his critics in Milwaukee.
“I believe I can serve the community of Fitchburg just like I served the community in Milwaukee. If you talk to the residents of Milwaukee – Hispanic, African American, white, Asian – they will tell you they respect the police department and I did a fairly good job. What I mean by that is sometimes you can’t do everything a group wants you to do. That’s where a group like Voces de la Frontera that wants law enforcement to denounce federal law enforcement (ICE) is something that’s difficult. A politician won’t do it, let alone a police officer who swears to uphold the laws and the constitutions of the municipality, the state of Wisconsin, and the United States.”
Morales stood out among the candidates last Tuesday as being the only one who would agree to have their department cooperate with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The Madison Police Department does not cooperate with ICE for suspected violations of immigration law; only cooperating when an individual is arrested for a violent felony, is a previously deported felon, or is suspected of terrorism, espionage, or of “participating in a criminal street gang.”
When asked by WORT last week about ICE involvement, Morales doubled down in defense of his officers working with ICE.
“When a law enforcement agency calls for assistance from another law enforcement agency, the law enforcement agency at the street level is going to respond to assist another law enforcement agency,” Morales said.
Relations with communities of color will be important to the new chief’s job. WORT spoke to one Fitchburg resident who attended the forum, identified as Shy.
“Fitchburg is a place that is very discriminatory regarding how they treat residents and the police presence. In the apartment building I live in, police just come and sit in the parking lot. That wouldn’t be a problem if they went everywhere in Fitchburg, [but] they don’t,” says Shy.
Shy is following the police chief search, but while wishing for a police chief who can treat communities of color well, wants to see more city resources directed to social programs over cops.
“That should be going into developing our communities for future generations. Our money should definitely go into development programs and upgrades in our communities instead of the police.”
Sarah Olson, HR Director for the City of Fitchburg, says there will be additional interviews to come for Morales and Siebeneck, and a final decision is expected to come in September. A final session for public input will be held on Wednesday, September 15 at 5pm, directly before an executive session where the final decision is scheduled to be made.