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Police Commission Demotes Milwaukee PD Chief For Using Teargas On Rioters

Milwaukee, WI – The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) voted unanimously on Thursday night to demote Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales to captain.

Chief Morales, who was chief of the Milwaukee Police Department for three-and-a-half years, had been at odds with the FPC since the commission chair demanded that he fire the officer who arrested Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in 2018, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

FPC commissioners recently took exception to the Milwaukee Police Department’s use of teargas to disperse rioters at violent protests.

At the same time, the commissioner began asking questions about allegations of racism in the policing of the city’s black communities, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“His conduct is unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses and flawed decisions, making it inconsistent with someone who has the privilege of leading the Milwaukee Police Department,” FPC Commissioner Raymond Robakowski said.

The commissioners named Milwaukee Assistant Police Chief Michael J. Brunson Sr. to step in as acting chief, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was angry about the chief’s demotion and said he was trying to restore transparency in the process and restore respect within the FPC and the Milwaukee Police Department, the Associated Press reported.

“I am not happy with what happened tonight at all,” Barrett said. “I am angry at what happened tonight because what the commission did was at the last minute amend the hearing notice and took this action tonight.

“What we need in this city now more than ever, is we need a Fire and Police Commission that is respected, and we need a police department that is respected by our citizens,” the mayor added.

Newly-appointed Acting Police Chief Brunson released a statement thanking the man he replaced, the Associated Press reported.

“I want to thank Alfonso Morales for his nearly 27 years of service and dedication to the City of Milwaukee,” the new chief said. “I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of this city and have great respect for all of the men and women of the Milwaukee Police Department.”

The move by the FPC came as the city is struggling with how to provide security for the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

More than 100 Wisconsin police departments have pulled out of agreements to help provide security for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee later this month.

The mass withdrawal occurred after the FPC ordered Chief Morales to discontinue the use of tear gas and pepper spray for crowd control, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Convention host cities typically recruit assistance for the massive event from other law enforcement agencies in their state, and the upcoming convention in Milwaukee was no different.

But in light of the prohibition on traditional less-lethal crowd control measures, numerous police departments no longer wanted anything to do with the event scheduled for the week of Aug. 17, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Now-former Chief Morales said more than 100 law enforcement agencies had backed out of agreements to assist with Democratic National Convention security since the Fire and Police Commissioner’s edict.

Milwaukee officials had listed only 60 partner agencies in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice three weeks ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Fond du Lac Police Chief William Lamb said that he expected even more police agencies to pull out of the program created to bring in 1,000 extra officers to help shore up security because of the violent protests ongoing nationwide.

Chief Lamb is the chairman of the Wisconsin Police Executive Group, an organization of police chiefs from cities with populations greater than 20,000, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“We respect the Fire and Police Commission’s decision,” Chief Lamb said. “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.”

He said his group had reached out to Milwaukee police on July 6 to outline those same concerns after the West Allis Police Department asked about the Milwaukee Common Council’s decision to stop purchasing tear gas and pepper spray, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

But at that time, they believed there was a new purchase of barricades, pepper spray, a “tactical gas delivery system,” food and drink for officers, and other equipment in the pipeline.

Chief Lamb said his organization hadn’t heard back from Milwaukee police before Chief Morales got the formal directive from the Fire and Police Commission, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“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,” West Allis Deputy Chief Robert Fletcher wrote in an email.

Chief Fletcher said his department believed taking tear gas and pepper spray away from officers compromised their safety as well as the safety of the public, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Franklin Police Chief Rick Oliva said basically the same thing in a letter to Chief Morales sent last week that said his agency had decided not to send officers to help with convention security “due to recent decisions by Milwaukee elected and appointed officials.”

“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,” Chief Oliva wrote in the July 23 letter. “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.”

The chief said the agreement Franklin police had entered into had stipulated that officers would be given “sufficient resources to handle multiple unruly persons,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

However, departments who had signed up could pull out of the deal if Milwaukee “fails to comply with or perform any material term, condition or obligation contained in the agreement.”

Greendale Police Chief Ryan Rosenow sent a letter to Chief Morales that echoed Chief Oliva’s sentiments and said he would not be sending the officers he had committed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson was waiting for the go-ahead from the Waukesha city attorney’s office before he officially cancelled the two dozen officers he had previously committed to work the convention.

“My position is we’re not going to be sending our officers to support the DNC,” Chief Thompson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Prior to joining the Waukesha police in March, he served 29 years on the Milwaukee police force.

“I understand that use of chemical irritants and pepper spray is serious and those are to be used only when legally justified,” the Waukesha chief said. “But when you take that out of the continuum that doesn’t leave the officers much other than getting harmed or using deadly force and that’s not good for any officer or the public.”

Milwaukee police have refused to comment on the matter because they said releasing staffing information could compromise operational security, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Multiple other departments have said they will not be sending officers because of their own staffing shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

New Jersey State Police also announced that it had cancelled a deployment of 55 officers to assist with Democratic National Convention security but did not give a reason, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

There is much speculation that the live convention events – which were only expected to attract about 300 people – would be turned into an entirely virtual experience.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said earlier this week he will not be going to Milwaukee for the convention, according to the Associated Press.

Written by
Sandy Malone

Managing Editor - Twitter/@SandyMalone_ - Prior to joining The Police Tribune, Sandy wrote the Politics.Net column for the Wall Street Journal and was managing editor of Campaigns & Elections magazine. More recently, she was an internationally-syndicated columnist for Conde Nast (BRIDES), The Huffington Post, and Monsters and Critics. Sandy is married to a retired police captain and former SWAT commander.

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Written by Sandy Malone

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