Jeramey Jannene

New MPD Policy Bans Most Chokeholds, Adds “I Can’t Breathe” Rule

Changes reflect national "Eight Can't Wait" reform effort.

By - Dec 10th, 2020 07:17 pm
Milwaukee Police Department officers guard the MPD administration building in June 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department officers guard the MPD administration building in June 2020. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

While the Fire & Police Commission continues to deadlock on who should serve as Milwaukee’s next police chief, it unanimously agreed on a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for the Milwaukee Police Department.

The commission adopted a new Use of Force SOP Thursday evening that reflects many of the aspects of the Eight Can’t Wait police practice reform campaign. The SOP bans chokeholds, institutes an “I Can’t Breathe” practice, restricts use of gas and outlines de-escalation practices.

Acting Chief Michael Brunson, who is to retire on December 23rd, drew praise for his collaborative work in bringing the policy changes to the finish line. “We accomplished with you in a few months what we couldn’t accomplish in a few years,” said commission chair Nelson Soler. He said the body had been working on the effort since March.

Chokeholds are now prohibited, unless the officer reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. Department officials previously said officers were not trained to use chokeholds, but the new policy explicitly limits their use.

Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council previously called for them to be banned without exception.

The revised SOP also bans the use of oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray) on peaceful demonstrations. “A peaceful demonstration is defined as a gathering of people expressing a position in a cooperative manner without violation of the law,” says the SOP.

The police department, including then-assistant chief Brunson, said it has only used pepper spray canisters this summer after notifying protesters that they were engaged in an unlawful assembly.

Some of the many other changes the Common Council previously asked for were included.

The new policy requires officers to file a use of force report any time they point a firearm at an individual, even if it is not discharged.

Alderman Khalif Rainey led a charge, that the department opposed, to require a report every time a weapon was drawn.

The council has budgetary, but not policy control over the department. Its public safety policy items take the form of requests to the commission.

An “I Can’t Breathe” provision is now in the SOP. The new procedure requires officers to immediately evaluate using an alternative technique if an individual says they can’t breathe, is experiencing chest pains or needs medical attention. It also requires people in restraints to be placed on their side or in a sitting position.

An entirely new section, 460.20, is introduced that guides de-escalation practices for officers with a goal of reducing the amount of force used.

Commissioner Everett Cocroft pushed for a graphic to be developed that explains the policy similar to other cities’ use of a pyramid.

“This is good work, it’s been long overdue,” said Soler. “We can revisit this as needed.”

A revised Community Oriented Policing SOP was held for future discussion.

The 2019 and 2020 versions of the SOP are available on Urban Milwaukee.

Categories: Public Safety, Weekly

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