Wauwatosa chief candidates have links to Milwaukee PD

    Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber was one of the first city officials to exit once the tense body camera meeting ended in the summer of 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
    Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber was one of the first city officials to exit once the tense body camera meeting ended in the summer of 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

    Update: A virtual meeting where some questions from the public, which were vetted by the City of Wauwatosa, will be asked of the chief candidates will be held on June 14, at 5 P.M. The meeting will be streamed here.

    Candidates for Wauwatosa’s new chief of police have been announced by the city. All three finalists have ties to the Milwaukee Police Department with one, Jeffrey Norman, currently serving as the department’s acting chief. Finalists were announced after the retirement of Chief Barry Weber on June 1, after 31 years leading Wauwatosa PD.

    Norman became acting chief of Milwaukee PD in December. Prior to Norman Milwaukee PD was led by another acting chief, Michael Brunson, who was appointed after Chief Alfonso Morales was demoted by the Fire and Police Commission. Like the other finalists, Norman has a long career at Milwaukee PD having served in several leadership positions.

    Acting-Chief of Police in Milwaukee, Jeffrey Norman. (Photo | City of Wauwatosa)
    Acting-Chief of Police in Milwaukee, Jeffrey Norman. (Photo | City of Wauwatosa)

    From commanding a division at Milwaukee PD’s District 3 station to serving as executive commander of the department’s criminal investigation bureau. In March, Norman participated in a town hall event where he engaged with Milwaukee residents.

    During the event, Norman, who is Black, expressed an understanding of some of the problems with police interactions with Black residents.. “I got stopped as a kid riding my bike,” said Norman, “questioned on where I got my bike from, why I don’t have a license plate. So I understand the depth and breath of the challenges that the law enforcement community has to overcome in regards to what it means to truly have a relationship.” He added that, “community engagement is not ice cream and lollipops. It’s actually having conversations, being a part of these dialogues where we’re actually seeing the human face behind the concerns and frustrations.”

    Norman’s fellow candidates also have long records with the Milwaukee PD. James MacGillis currently serves as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) officer for the State of Wisconsin. In January 2021, he retired as a captain of police and director of training at the Milwaukee Police Academy. There, he supervised training of Milwaukee’s officers in a variety of ways. He also has ties to several organizations including the Milwaukee Police Historical Society and the McKinley Masonic Lodge, and is a member of a local American Legion Post.

    David Salazar (Photo | City of Wauwatosa)
    David Salazar (Photo | City of Wauwatosa)

    Then there’s David Salazar, who currently serves as a captain assigned to District 2. In 2013, Salazar was the commander of Milwaukee’s fusion center where he oversaw the intelligence hub’s significant growth, including expanding the ShotSpotter system, creating a crime gun intelligence center, and plugging the center into the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. Norman has also served within fusion.

    Wauwatosa’s Police and Fire Commission has spent recent weeks collecting questions from the public to ask the candidates. A June 14 public forum with the candidates is also tentatively planned by the PFC. Community leaders and activists have expressed interest in whether a new chief will lead Wauwatosa PD in a different direction.

    Under Weber, Wauwatosa PD gained a reputation for racial profiling, discrimination, and not respecting the rights of certain residents. When Weber took the post in 1990, the department was being investigated for Martin Luther King Day parties held by officers who wore black face and passed around racist literature. Weber said he would change the culture of the department, but later promoted one of the officers who held the parties at his home to a supervisory rank. Concerns over the department’s tactics endured for decades, leading up to the protests of 2020.

    James McGillis (Photo | City of Wauwatosa)
    James McGillis (Photo | City of Wauwatosa)

    Black Lives Matter protesters in Wauwatosa were subjected to targeted surveillance and heavy-handed tactics that left protesters injured. After the city’s October curfew ended Weber said, “People can protest day in and day out. It’s not going to change anything.” Weber was also resistant to attempts to implement new policies at the department, such as equipping all officers with body cameras.

    Although Weber is gone, many of the officers who served under him  remain at WPD. They include a detective who put elected officials on a list of high value targets and others who created lists of protesters’ names, seized the phones of protesters and took part in aggressive arrests. The police union has maintained an adversarial posture toward the department’s critics.

    Until a new chief is chosen acting chief Luke Vetter heads the department, after being promoted from captain the day Weber retired. Vetter approved the operations plan for Wauwatosa’s October curfew, which is the subject of numerous lawsuits. Mayor Dennis McBride has focused on increasing diversity among Wauwatosa’s governmental bodies to help remedy the suburb’s history of racism.

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    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.