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Milwaukee: 2-year struggle over police transparency coming to crucial vote

By staff

Milwaukee, WI – On Thursday, March 23, members of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, families who have lost loved ones to police violence, and members of the public attended the most recent Fire and Police Commission Policies and Standards Committee meeting. After a special session in February, this regular Policies and Standards Committee meeting revisited the proposal for a standard operating procedure, or SOP, related to the public release of footage related to critical incidents.

The Milwaukee Alliance, families of police crime victims, and over 1000 signatories of the 24/48 petition support and demand an SOP that requires the release of footage related to critical incidents within 48 hours. They also support and demand the public release of the officers’ names within 24 hours. They’ve made this clear for nearly two years to the members of the Policies and Standards Committee and the Milwaukee police department representatives who also join the meetings.

Throughout this struggle, the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) members have made it clear that they view themselves as mediators between the demands of the people and those of the police. This is why, rather than simply codifying MPD's informal practice of releasing heavily redacted footage within 45 days, they are proposing a 15-day timeline. Such a proposal is an improvement, but it is still not close enough to the demands for 24/48. Moreover, this proposal is moving further and further away from what began this campaign, which aimed to greatly reduce the pain and suffering families experience when they lose a loved one and have to wait months or years to find out what happened.

In February, the SOP draft included a provision that would require the release of footage to families within 48 hours. At that meeting, police representatives of neighboring municipalities and participants in the Milwaukee Area Investigative Team used up the majority of the session’s time to offer inaccurate excuses as to why this could not be met. They went as far as to threaten pulling out of the Milwaukee Area Investigative Team agreement, which requires an external police agency to investigate critical incidents. Their threats seemed to have worked. In the SOP draft presented on Thursday, this provision had been removed.

It’s evident that the police agencies will not allow the FPC to seek a middle path. They do not want an SOP that requires a higher degree of transparency because they know this will limit their practice of crafting a narrative and swaying public opinion prior to any footage release. As they do in most critical incidents, they like to depict the victim as a criminal or dangerous person in order to justify their violence. Should the footage, the highest standard for transparency and evidence in these kinds of cases, be released within 48 hours, the police will not be able to manipulate public opinion in their favor. This is why they are so adamant about forcing the FPC to push the release timeline closer to 45 days.

The police may have more resources (nearly half of the city’s budget), but the Milwaukee Alliance has people power. They intend to use this power to ensure that the FPC side with the people of Milwaukee and actually do something to hold police accountable and ensure transparency. The campaign is coming to an end. The Policies and Standards Committee will be presenting the SOP draft for debate at the FPC General Meeting on April 6. The Milwaukee Alliance is ready to meet them there and make the demands of the people and the families heard to ensure that the FPC oversees the MPD in a way that secures the safety of the community.

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