Acting Police Chief Michael Brunson discusses priorities; increase in Milwaukee homicides

NOW: Acting Police Chief Michael Brunson discusses priorities; increase in Milwaukee homicides

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Acting Chief Michael Brunson has been with the Milwaukee Police Department for nearly 25 years, but he is now the man in charge.

"So far, so good. I mean, there's a lot of challenges we face as a city, as a department frankly, and those things are obviously interrelated as one of the things we want to focus on is the relationship we have with the community, with community members because it takes all of us working together to improve the situation in Milwaukee," Brunson said.

He was promoted to acting chief after the Fire and Police Commission voted to demote former Chief Alfonso Morales. His time as acting chief also comes during a pandemic, a conversation both nationally and locally about police reform, and an increase in homicides in the city.

"The level of violence that we're seeing in 2020 is something that is quite disturbing and alarming to us," Brunson said.

So far, the Milwaukee Police Department says there have been 130 homicides this year. In 2019, there were 97 for the year.

“One of the things that we’re seeing as it relates to shooting and homicides is that there’s a lot of interpersonal conflict that we’re seeing and it’s connected to a variety of things. We are seeing an increase in domestic violence, but we’re also seeing an increase in road rage type shootings,” Brunson said.

He also pointed out that there have been three incidents that count for 13 homicides, including the shooting at Molson Coors and the shooting of five family members near 12th and Hadley.

Brunson said they’re hoping it is an anomaly as it relates to the number of homicides and non-fatal shootings that have occurred this year.

“One of the things that has been discussed across the country is you know, the COVID factor, is the fact that people are cooped up in their houses, some level of frustration. Is that a contributing factor? We don’t know for sure, we believe that’s a possibility,” said Brunson.

He said in order to address issues, like violence, the department is going to need collaboration, cooperation, and an improved relationship between police and the community.

Brunson said the department is working with the Community Collaborative Commission on standard operating procedures and other community based organizations. 

“In addition to just meeting with people, from members of the political spectrum for our community, Common Council members, the FPC, talking to them, and just engaging with as many entities as we can moving forward, to take the city forward, to work together,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Common Council passed a resolution asking the budget director for a model budget that would include a ten percent reduction in the police department’s budget.

“One of the things that gives me pause is that if in fact our budget is cut, and we do know that based on the city’s financial situation, based on the pandemic, there will be likely a cut in personnel, one of the things that I’m concerned about is the level of service that citizens will receive based on those cuts. So my job and our job here as a department, is to look at the number of personnel we could potentially have and come up with the best ways to still ensure that safety is provided for our city,” Brunson said.

He said police have taken on roles over the years that some social service providers would be better to address.

“Would mental health professionals better handle some of those calls that police go to? Absolutely, absolutely. One of the things, though, that you have to be mindful of is the capacity of those entities, and not only the capacity, but the fact that many times, these calls come in at 3 o’clock in the morning for example, on a Sunday, and so the level of capacity that an entity would have to have to handle those calls for service – and over the last two years, we’ve had over 8,000 mental health related calls, so you would have to quickly ramp up whatever entity is going to take those calls for service. So there would be a lot involved in that, and my fear is that if we do cut the level of officers then – and that’s just one aspect for calls for service – then who is going to pick up that slack?”

Following the protests and discussions that came after the death of George Floyd, Brunson said he calls this time, the post-George Floyd era of policing.

“It requires a special leader to engage and connect and have the empathy, the patience, understanding, and frankly drive to accept criticism, to accept conflict, and to work through it so those relationships can be built, continued and sustained,” he said.

When it comes to who will become the permanent chief of the Milwaukee Police Department, Executive Director of the Fire and Police Commission Griselda Aldrete said twelve people applied. Applications were due on Sept. 11. Aldrete said they will not be releasing the names of the candidates to “protect their confidentiality and the process.”

Aldrete said the FPC Commissioners will release candidate names “as they see appropriate as the process gets underway.”

A spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Department said Brunson also wanted to wait to say if he had applied for the job.

At the Fire and Police Commission meeting on Sept. 3, Chairman Nelson Soler laid out the process. He said each commissioner will review each applicant and they hope to have that completed by Sept. 29. Soler said commissioners will then meet in executive session and discuss the top five candidates and will then announce those candidates to the public. The top five candidates will be called in or an interview that will be public and there will be at least two meetings during the month of November, according to Soler. He said they will make a decision in early December.

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