The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission on Thursday added more incentives for police officers and firefighters to live in the city.
Seven years after a state law struck down Milwaukee’s residency requirement for city employees, the commission approved a resolution Thursday that will award “preference points” for city residents applying for promotions within the fire and police departments.
The commission also approved a resolution to create an appellate panel to review appeals from job candidates who fail the city’s psychological evaluations after several public safety officials said the evaluation contained cultural biases.
Both measures were approved by unanimous votes.
The commission did not address its stalled selection process for a permanent police chief. Amanda Avalos, whose appointment to the commission was approved earlier this week, has not yet been sworn into the position and did not participate in Thursday’s meeting.
Avalos could provide the tie-breaking vote between candidates Maj. Malik Aziz, of the Dallas Police Department, and Supervisory Special Agent Hoyt Mahaley, of the FBI.
For years now, the commission has offered preference points for residency to applicants for entry-level positions in the police and fire departments, such as fire cadet, firefighter, police aide and police officer.
But Thursday’s vote will provide the same kind of incentive for those seeking advancement in either department as long as they demonstrate at least two years of residency in the city.
Milwaukee spent decades requiring city employees to live within city limits. But that was undone in 2013 when the state Legislature passed a law forbidding such requirements, frustrating city officials.
By 2019, 28% of city employees, including 45% of firefighters and police officers, were living outside the city, meaning millions of dollars in salaries supplied by the City of Milwaukee are now supporting suburban tax bases, according to an analysis by Marquette University Law School’s Milwaukee Area Project.
The measure passed Thursday only incentivizes residency, rather than requiring it. A written opinion by the City Attorney’s Office argued the preference points should be able to withstand a legal challenge.
Apart from property tax considerations, city officials and community activists have argued that having first responders work where they live fosters greater cultural competence and community investment.
Dale Bormann Jr., the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, the union representing the city’s rank-and-file officers, did not return a request for an interview Thursday. The union has argued before that nonresidents work just as hard as residents and employees should be able to live where they please.
But even with residency preference points in place, nonresidents should still expect a reasonable likelihood of promotion because, historically, 50% to 75% of eligible candidates are eventually selected for advancement, according to the City Attorney’s Office. The city also cannot stop employees from moving outside Milwaukee after receiving their promotion, either.
The Fire and Police Commission also offers preference points to entry-level job candidates who are military veterans and graduates of various accredited college programs, according to city documents.
Appeal panel to be created
The commission also passed a resolution to create a three-person panel — consisting of a clinical psychologist, a commissioner and an executive director — to review appeals from job applicants who fail the city’s psychological evaluation.
The creation of a panel comes after several public safety officials — including Chairman Nelson Soler, Vice Chairwoman Angela McKenzie, Acting Fire Chief Aaron Lipski and then-Acting Police Chief Michael Brunson — said in September that the evaluations were having disparate effects on women, people of color and LGBTQ people.
Those complaints were the result of evaluations administered by a vendor that is no longer contracting with the commission, officials said.
Previously, appeals were considered at the sole discretion of the commission’s executive director.