Sarah Morgan, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, is the newest member of the City of Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission. Mayor Tom Barrett nominated Morgan to replace Leonard Sobczak, who left the commission in January, and the Common Council approved her appointment May 27 to fill out the year remaining in Sobczak’s term.
“Being appointed is quite an honor,” says Morgan. “As a nurse and a citizen it’s a chance to give input.” The members of the Fire and Police Commission, representing a diversity of citizen views, work with an executive director to provide civilian oversight for the police and fire departments.
The commission reviews hiring decisions, listens to citizen complaints and appeals of disciplinary actions, and helps set overall policy. Members, who receive a modest stipend, meet every other Thursday.
Her health care background will give her some useful insights, Morgan says, since she found out that more than 80 percent of fire department calls are for paramedics.
Having an academic background also gives her a perspective on using evidence-based research in making decisions, she says, which is a good fit with the current management philosophy at both the police and fire departments. “Both Chief Holton [Fire Chief Douglas Holton] and Chief Flynn [Police Chief Edward Flynn] are into that.” Both use such evidence-based research in looking at ways to improve officer safety and paramedic response times, she adds.
As part of her training for the commission appointment, Morgan will attend a citizen version of the police academy and also learn more about how firefighters do their jobs. During the confirmation process, Morgan had the chance to meet with Mayor Barrett; Willie Hines, president of the Common Council; members of the council’s Public Safety Committee; her alderman, Michael Murphy; and other members of the commission.
While she’s still learning her new commission responsibilities, says Morgan, many of the decision-making approaches are familiar. “You’re looking at evidence, weighing and assessing based on what you learn. That’s very similar to what you do when you’re doing nursing research.”
Commission members and others she’s met have been candid about the controversial issues she may face. Citizen complaints about police officers are just one example. “You have to be able to see both sides of any situation.”
Again, her training as a nurse will be an important factor. “Part of my training is in ethics and I hope to bring those ethics and a sense of fairness to decisions.”