Milwaukee: FPC set to vote on policy for release of footage in police-involved critical incidents
Vote follows heated community testimony
Milwaukee, WI – On Thursday, April 6, inside a packed City Hall room, families, organizations and concerned residents offered public testimony to the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) in support of the 24/48 Campaign demands. At this meeting, the FPC made a motion to present the resolution for the creation of a standard operating procedure (SOP) pertaining to the release of video footage of critical incidents involving officers from the Milwaukee Police Department. After a nearly two-year struggle led by the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the FPC is poised to adopt this SOP when it is put to a vote at their April 20 meeting.
This represents a tremendous victory for the movement against police crimes in the city of Milwaukee. The release of footage SOP would be the first of its kind for MPD. Without such a protocol in place, the police are able to withhold all evidence of what happened to their victims, both from the public as well as from the families of those murdered or brutalized.
Based on the input from the entire FPC, the resolution will be edited to reflect these two demands: video footage is to be released to the victim’s family within 48 hours of a critical incident, and to the broader public within 15 days. The former clause was initially withdrawn by FPC Executive Director Leon Todd after consulting with the police – and without consulting his fellow FPC members – but the overwhelming support for the reduced timeframe from public testimony convinced the other commissioners to include it in the final draft.
While the timelines for public release and family access had a clear majority in favor, there was still disagreement between commissioners about MPD’s chief of police possibly exercising the right to an extension beyond the 15-day period. The presented SOP draft granted a 15-day extension in extraordinary cases, but it was brought down to a five-day extension. The public made it known that there should be no extension for MPD as that leaves the door open for the editing of footage and other coverup measures. There is a strong chance that commissioners will vote in favor of removing this provision in the final draft. The Milwaukee Alliance intends on making the demand for no exceptions heard at the next public testimony.
Before the FPC regular session, the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression organized a press conference outside of City Hall. They provided context about the two-year campaign and reasoning for the 24/48 demands. Hearing from family members who have lost loved ones to police violence in the city has clearly made this issue widely felt with the public. It has also highlighted the true nature of the FPC as a body that does not oversee the police but instead takes orders from them. The longer the process went on, the clearer it became that Executive Director Todd was listening more to the concerns from the MPD than to those of the families and communities.
“If the FPC keeps going so far to say that they need to keep the best interests of the MPD in mind, we need to make our own commissions. This has already been done in cities like Chicago,” said Lo Cross, co-chair of the Milwaukee Alliance. “We know that with the ECPS ordinance, a democratically elected council of people who have been affected most by police and don’t side with them can make real change. We know putting pressure on electeds only goes so far, and what we really need is to get rid of the systems that disempower us.”
Although the demands for the release of names of officers involved in critical incidents within 24 hours and the public release of all relevant footage within 48 hours weren’t fully met, the inclusion of the provision for families to promptly view video evidence is a significant accomplishment. It will go a long way in helping families fight for justice and for control of the narrative, something that MPD or whatever sister police department is leading the investigation have had exclusive control over up to this point. This SOP will be a step in the right direction for transparency and accountability in Milwaukee and serve as a launching point for the struggles yet to come.