Policies adopted by the city of Milwaukee have led to police agencies deciding not to show up to help safeguard the Democratic National Convention, scheduled there for Aug. 17-20.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union rejoiced.
“This is a tumultuous time in not only the Milwaukee Police Department, but in police departments throughout the country. In order for police relations with the community to improve, we have to break with unhelpful police practices that we’ve seen in the past,” Chris Ott, the ACLU of Wisconsin’s executive director, said in a statement.
“The FPC was right to order a change in policy to discontinue tear gas and pepper spray after a large volume of both were used against protestors throughout the city last month. Accountability, and a new policy, should be in place going forward to ensure that protestors are not subjected to harmful police practices when exercising their First Amendment right to protest,” he added.
But while making those who support protests and demonstrations happy, the Milwaukee edict left police agencies that had promised to send officers to Milwaukee to help protect the Democratic convention feeling very uneasy.
“When you rule an unlawful assembly to help break up that crowd, once we deem them unruly, that’s a safe manner in doing so. Not having those tools increases the potential for more violence,” Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales told WTMJ-TV.
“That’s a big concern for the law enforcement community within Milwaukee and outside of Milwaukee.”
“We respect the Fire and Police Commission’s decision,” Fond du Lac Police Chief William Lamb told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
“But in this particular case, we strongly disagree with the actions they’ve taken. We believe [that] in removing those tools, the use of chemical irritants or pepper spray, from the available resources that the law enforcement officers would have at their disposal if protests become non-peaceful would severely compromise the safety of the public and also the safety of the law enforcement officers who would be assigned to protect the DNC.”
West Allis Police Chief Patrick Mitchell said in a statement to WTMJ that when he signed up for the job of protecting the convention, “I relied upon the fact that the Milwaukee Police Department would provide adequate equipment and that they would have adequate policies in place related to crowd control.”
“I am unwilling to ask West Allis Officers to work in an uncertain environment where they may not have the appropriate equipment to safeguard citizens and themselves,” he said.
West Allis Deputy Chief Robert Fletcher added to the Journal-Sentinel: “Our concern is that in the event protests turn non-peaceful, such a policy would remove tools from officers that may otherwise be legal and justifiable to utilize in specific situations.”
Franklin Police Chief Rick Oliva, meanwhile, wrote to Morales and other Milwaukee officials saying that “recent decisions by Milwaukee elected and appointed officials” meant he could not fulfill his commitment.
“It is apparent there is a lack of commitment to provide the Milwaukee Police Department with the resources it needs to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters, attendees, citizens and police personnel,” Oliva wrote. “I can not send personnel if they are not properly equipped or will not be allowed to engage in appropriate actions which would ensure their safety.”
Only about 300 people are expected to be in Milwaukee for the convention, which will have minimal events conducted in person.
Most speeches will be remote, although presumptive nominee Joe Biden has said he will come to Milwaukee to accept the nomination.
Despite the event’s smaller scale, police are preparing for potentially large protests in and around the venue, with Morales telling WTMJ he would not rule out getting help from the federal government or National Guard.
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