Council Seeks Police Reform, But Will It Happen?
Common Council has a growing wish list. Will Fire & Police Commission act?
On Tuesday the Milwaukee Common Council passed a wish list of police reform measures it would like to see implemented, but it’s not the Milwaukee Police Department that needs to implement the proposals.
The Fire & Police Commission is authorized under state law to set standard operating procedures for both the city’s police and fire departments. It’s up to the commission’s seven council-confirmed members to act to implement the council’s wish list.
But at least two issues could delay any action. Last week an audit of the source of a leaked video from a sexual assault investigation revealed that commission chair Steven M. DeVougas was uncooperative in the investigation and likely violated the city’s ethics policy with regard to representing a client for which he has a conflict of interest. The leak benefitted Police Chief Alfonso Morales who less than two days later was given a four-year contract to continue serving as chief.
The council Tuesday was also scheduled to vote on reappointment for commission executive director Griselda Aldrete, the head of the independent body’s fulltime staff. But Aldrete, who has frequently sparred with the council in her first year on the job, withdrew from consideration less than 24 hours before the vote. She said she would continue to serve in her current role until a replacement could be found, but the process could take many months. Mayor Tom Barrett has the authority to make an appointment to fill her post and that of two vacant commission seats.
Request for Rule Requiring Report Every Time Officers Draw Gun, Mace or Stun Gun
Should members of the Milwaukee Police Department be required to report every time they draw a weapon, even if they don’t fire it? “Ultimately at the end of the day it’s a deterrent,” said Rainey in explaining his proposal to members of the Public Safety & Health Committee last week. He wants to see some form of log tracking when guns and other weapons are drawn.
Members of the police department are currently required only to file a report when force is used. The Milwaukee Police Department opposes the change and said it would be “unproductive” and an administrative burden.
The measure was introduced by Alderman Khalif Rainey and unanimously endorsed by the council. It was co-sponsored by Cavalier Johnson, Nik Kovac, Russell W. Stamper, II, Ashanti Hamilton, Nikiya Dodd and Chantia Lewis. More information.
Request for Database of Police and Fire Badge Numbers and Records
Alderman Stamper led the successful adoption of a request for the Fire & Police Commission to develop a public database of police officers and firefighters including their badge numbers and records. “What we have here is an opportunity to be more transparent with the public,” said Stamper. He said it would build trust with the community. “You’ll be able to access it at any time.”
Stamper said he was inspired to add the fire department after an investigation into a black figurine hanging from a “looped ribbon” was revealed a week prior.
Ald. Scott Spiker said he was concerned it would provide too much information on individuals and said he would have to vote against the measure given that neither department publicly weighed in.
Request for Prohibition of Chokeholds and Strangleholds
Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa introduced a proposal on the council floor to request the commission update standard operating procedures to explicitly prohibit the use of chokeholds and strangleholds. “After looking into this, I was told the MPD has not trained individuals for a number of years, I believe it was the 90s, on the use of chokeholds, but never the less I believe it is important to call on the Fire & Police Commission to write this down in an SOP and make it official,” said Zamarripa. She said the measure was being put forward in honor of Joel Acevedo who died as a result of a chokehold from off-duty police officer Michael Mattioli. The officer has been suspended and faces homicide charges. “Let us now and forever call on the FPC to ban chokeholds and strangleholds by our police department.”
The unanimously adopted measure was co-sponsored by Cavalier Johnson, Perez, Dimitrijevic, Borkowski, Kovac, Spiker and Lewis. The request builds on Ald. Stamper’s “I can’t breathe” resolution adopted in June. More information on the request.
Request for Commission to Engage Police Department and Community Leaders To Rebuild Trust and Discuss Community-Oriented Strategies
The council unanimously adopted a request from Council President Johnson for the Fire & Police Commission to work with the police department to rebuild trust and discuss community-oriented strategies to handle civil unrest in the wake of civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. More information.
Request for Hiring That is More Diverse and Reflective of Neighborhoods Public Safety Departments Serve
One of the requests had nothing to do how the city’s public safety departments operate, but instead who works for them. The measure, introduced by Council President Johnson, calls for the FPC to “redouble recruitment efforts within Milwaukee neighborhoods so that the fire and police departments are more diverse and reflective of the communities they serve.”
The city’s collectively-bargained residency requirement was unilaterally stripped away by the state in 2013 and has led to an exodus of firefighters and police officers from the city. As of late 2019, 45 percent of the city’s public safety employees live outside the city. Two-thirds of Milwaukee police officers are white as of late 2019, while whites make up just over one-third of all city residents. More information on the request.
Things The Council Does Control
The council does have control over some measures, primarily those that involve budgetary issues. The council unanimously passed a requirement that the police department present all acquisitions of crowd-response, crowd-control, military-grade and militaristic equipment to the Common Council before purchase. The measure was co-sponsored by Coggs, Kovac, Perez, Lewis and Stamper.
The council had also previously requested a model of a 10 percent cut to the approximately $300 million police budget, with funds reallocated to public health and community services. The police department must live within the budget the council sets, but can exceed the overtime budget. The final 2021 budget is scheduled to be adopted in November.
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