Milwaukee Alliance demands SOP for Milwaukee police transparency
Milwaukee, WI – On November 15, members of the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression attended the Fire and Police Commission Policies and Standards Committee meeting. This meeting provided important updates regarding the ongoing work to create a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the public release of footage related to cases of misconduct from the Milwaukee Police Department.
After September’s meeting, Fire and Police Commission (FPC) Executive Director Leon Todd, and Chair Ed Fallone communicated to the Milwaukee Alliance that they would be drafting their own SOP to compare to the police department’s own SOP. After a period of deliberation, the Policies and Standards Committee would present one of the SOPs to the entire FPC, which would then vote to adopt the SOP.
However, at November’s meeting, Todd presented a draft that he wrote up. Upon review of this draft, there were immediate red flags. First, this draft was for a Standard Operating Instruction (SOI), not procedure. This distinction means that the policy would only apply to a specific department or office within the MPD rather than every police officer. Moreover, an SOI is significantly less enforceable than an SOP.
Second, the SOI draft makes a soft suggestion for the public release of evidence that captures an officer-involved death or other critical incident within 15 days of the incident. Given the various exemptions that Todd makes in this SOI draft and the emphasis on business days rather than calendar days, the public release of video evidence will take significantly longer than 15 days.
Third, the SOI draft preserves the power to publicly release video evidence with the police. As the SOI draft states, “the video evidence in question shall be released as soon as the reason(s) for the delay has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Chief of Police or his/her designee.” Currently, the MPD already has complete control over the release of video evidence, which is why the Milwaukee Alliance has been so adamant about creating an SOP requiring the public release of video evidence in a timely manner. To solve this issue, the power cannot be preserved in the hands of the MPD. This SOI draft is a failure on this front.
Fourth, and perhaps most egregious, this SOI draft omits any input from the community or the families of Milwaukee who have lost loved ones to police violence. The Milwaukee Alliance and multiple families who have lost loved ones at the hands of police have met with the Fire and Police Commission several times this year to discuss the SOP. They have made it clear that they want to see video evidence released publicly within 48 hours and the names of officers involved released within 24 hours.
“What’s most disappointing about this process is having to update the families about how weak this SOI is and how it disregards what we’ve expressed to the FPC that we want to see out of the SOP,” said Lauryn Cross, co-chair of the Milwaukee Alliance. “The FPC has received ample community input, but through this SOI draft, they have shown that only the MPD’s input matters.”
When it came time to discuss the SOI draft, Commissioner Bree Spencer questioned why the SOI draft gave the chief of police any discretion over the release of video evidence and why it insisted on counting only business days when accounting for the 15-day period. Furthermore, Commissioners Spencer and Amanda Avalos expressed concern with the suggested length and voiced support for a shorter time frame. It should be noted that as soon as it was time to discuss this item in the agenda, Todd exited the meeting. Thus, the questions and concerns raised by the commissioners and members of the public were left unaddressed since the author of this draft was no longer at the meeting.
The Milwaukee Alliance intends on carrying forward the 24/48 demands and will continue to pressure the FPC to actually oversee the MPD. 15 days, even if calendar rather than business days, is still too long of a waiting period for the public release of video evidence. If the policy’s intention is to build trust between the public and the MPD, transparency needs to be ensured with the release of video evidence within 48 hours.
The police are more than capable of releasing video evidence in short periods of time. During the midterm elections, police arrested a man who was threatening voters with a knife, and the video evidence was released within a day. Rather than listen to the MPD, which they are tasked with overseeing, the FPC needs to draft an SOP that requires the public release of video evidence without any discretion from the police.