Do Bad Cops Ever Die?

By Nada Merghani and Kodjovi Kpachavi

Bad cops remind me of phoenixes. Not because they’re beautiful, mysterious, or powerful, but because they never really die and whenever they do temporarily implode on themselves they are merely reborn in another police department somewhere else all while leaving trails of flames in their wake. These paths of destruction are often what their careers are built off.

Recently, it was announced that the Fitchburg Police & Fire Commission is entering the hiring process for a new police chief for the City of Fitchburg. Alfonso Morales, an ousted Milwaukee police chief, is now one of the two remaining finalists for the position. Morales has a long track record of abuses of power that led many in the community to lose faith in his capacity for even a basic respect for people’s rights. During his time as police chief, Morales fired an officer after she made sexual harassment claims against his assistant chief, allowed a killer cop to stay on the payroll after strangling Joel Acevedo while off-duty, and refused to comply with the Milwaukee governments demands for transparency, which resulted in his demotion from chief.

Around the time the candidates were first announced, an article came out citing how nearly 200 Wisconsin police officers were re-hired in other departments throughout the state after being fired. Cops who were fired for drunk driving, sexual harassment, and burglary (among other things) would simply relocate and find work in another area of the state.

None of this is new. Throughout the country, and especially in Wisconsin, bad cops are difficult to get removed and, even when they are fired, are likely to get re-hired in a nearby or neighboring county. In fact, there are studies that have come out in the last 5 years that show what many of us have known for a long time: whether they’re fired, put on leave, or even arrested when bad cops are able to continue policing, they continue to harm communities.

This has proven itself to be true in my hearttown of Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was violently murdered by Officer Brently Vinson who was not charged or fired. In 2020, that same officer allowed Harold Easter to die in custody after suffering multiple heart attacks and begging for help. Time after time and example after example, we are shown that the system we are living in is fully aware of the effects murderous, violent, or predatory cops have on our community while having no intention of stopping them from having power over us.

This prompts me to question--if bad cops never die, what does that mean for the society they’re policing?

For surviviors living in Fitchburg, it could potentially mean living under a police chief who allows  and enables sexual violence, murder, and brutalization of marginalized people.

For activists in Milwaukee, it could potentially mean watching another community be tormented by a police chief after spending years working to have him removed from power. 

For all colonized people living in America, it means that whenever we see a cop car in the street we know that no matter who sits inside it, they are part of a system of violence against our community who will be given power over and over again to keep hurting and killing us regardless of their conduct or behavior.

It is for this reason that we must have Community Control over our safety and divest from violent police. We certainly do not want Morales, but we also do not want a continuation of this violent institution that has routinely failed to create and maintain public safety. Let us grow something new out of these ashes.

UPDATE 09/29/21: The Fitchburg Police and Fire Commission has voted 3-2 in favor of hiring Alfonso Morales.