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Milwaukee Common Council President sends letter to FPC on policy changes

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Common Council President Cavalier Johnson sent a letter to the Fire and Police Commission urging specific policy changes for the police department. 

In the letter, Johnson said he urges the Fire and Police Commission to review the Milwaukee Police Department’s Standard Operating Procedures, training, and code of conduct to comply with policy recommendations identified in the "Eight Can't Wait" campaign

Those recommendations include:

  • Bans Chokeholds and Strangleholds
  • Requires De-escalation
  • Requires Warning Before Shooting 
  • Requires Exhaust All Alternatives Before Shooting
  • Duty to Intervene
  • Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles
  • Has Use of Force Continuum
  • Requires Comprehensive Reporting

According to the "8 Can't Wait" database, the Milwaukee Police Department meets three of those recommendations:

  • Requires Warning Before Shooting (According to the department's standard operating procedure for use of force, when feasible, a verbal warning should be given prior to the use of force likely to cause great bodily harm or death.
  • Duty to Intervene (According to the department's standard operating procedure for use of force, any officer who personally observes another officer using force, which the observing officer believes to be beyond that which is objectively reasonable under the circumstances, shall reasonably attempt to intervene to prevent the use of such excessive force, if the observing officer is in a position to do so, and if any such intervention does not jeopardize safety. Any such intervening officer shall promptly report their observations, along with his/her own intervening actions to a supervisor. A failure to intervene in any unreasonable use of force, when there is an opportunity to do so,demonstrates a lack of courage, and a violation of the Code of Conduct.)
  • Has Use of Force Continuum, which provides progressive use of force tactics dependent on the perceived threat and how and when certain weapons can be deployed for the safety of the officer and the public, according to Johnson's letter. 

Johnson said he will be introducing a resolution urging to the Fire and Police Commission to legislate measures toward the other recommendations, including a stated ban on chokeholds, strangleholds, carotid restraints, or any maneuver which restricts movement of the head or neck. While the Milwaukee Police Department does not train on or use those forms of restraint, Johnson said he urges the FPC to revise current standard operating procedures to explicitly state that those forms of restraint are prohibited. 

His letter also lists a ban on shooting at a moving vehicle unless the people in the vehicle pose a deadly threat by means other than the vehicle, for example if occupants are shooting at officers from inside of a moving vehicle. (According to the department's standard operating procedure, a police member shall not discharge a firearm at the driver or occupant(s) of a moving vehicle, or the vehicle itself, unless deadly physical force is being used against the police member or another person by means other than a moving vehicle, or, the moving vehicle poses an imminent and ongoing threat of substantial physical harm to the police member or another person from which there is no reasonable means to escape, and the risks are outweighed by the need to use deadly physical force. Once the threat of the moving vehicle ceases, a police member shall not discharge his or her firearm at the vehicle.) 

Johnson said he is also urging the use of force standard operating procedure to include language that explicitly requires officers to attempt to de-escalate situations through verbal communication, maintaining physical distance from the person, and trying to eliminate any use of force, whenever possible. 

"The verbalization skills coupled with physical alternatives, verbalization being the most important component, with those physical alternatives, whether it's just moving our position, managing our body language, the tone of our dialogue, whether we put a resolving hand on somebody's back or even managing and controlling their arm to avoid them escalating the situation. Those are all different skills that are trained from day one in the academy. We expound upon it along their training as a recruit and we also do it through in-service training throughout their career," said MPD Lt. Jim McGillis to the Public Safety and Health Committee on June 4 regarding medically significant behavior. 

Johnson's letter also urges there be a stated requirement for officers to exhaust other uses of force before discharging a gun. "While SOP 460 states that, 'force that is intended or likely to cause great bodily harm or death, may only be used as a last resort,' it does not explicitly state how use of force must be graduated and which lesser uses of force should be attempted prior to discharging a firearm, if possible," the letter states. 

He would also like a requirement that pointing a weapon at a civilian be reported as part of a comprehensive use of force reporting requirement. (According to the department's use of force standard operating procedure, the Use of Force Report shall be completed by a supervisory officer when a department member discharges a firearm except in a training situation or for lawful recreational purposes; Uses a baton to strike a subject or animal in the line of duty; Discharges an irritant, chemical, or inflammatory agent; Deploys an electronic control device to include contact stun and probe deployment; Department canine bites a person; Forcible blood draws requiring use of force to obtain a sample where a subject claims injury or is injured as a result of police action; Uses bodily force that involves focused strikes, diffused strikes, or decentralizations to the ground; Uses any type of force in which a person is injured or claims injury, whether or not the injury is immediately visible.)

"Not only does the implementation of stricter use of force policies save citizen’s lives, this study also showed that these policies reduce the likelihood of both assaults on police officers and police officer death in the line of duty," President Johnson said in the letter. 

When asked for a response to these proposals, a MPD spokesperson shared the use of force policy: "It is a policy of the Milwaukee Police Department that members hold the highest regard for the sanctity of human life, dignity, and liberty of all persons. It is the policy of the department to accomplish the department's mission with the cooperation of the public and with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force. Members of the Milwaukee Police Department shall only use the force necessary to perform their duties and in accordance with department policy." 


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