By Alexandria Staubach
Milwaukee Police Department Chief Jeffrey Norman and Milwaukee County Sheriff Denita Ball identified trust and staffing as the top issues facing their respective departments. They stressed trust, community partnership, and internal department communication as keys to dampen any expected summer crime spike.
Norman and Ball discussed their departments’ challenges and their summer crime-prevention strategies at Marquette Law School on Thursday. Marquette Law School Lubar Center Director Derek Mosley facilitated the talk.
Norman acknowledged public mistrust of the MPD. He then delivered a passionate sermon about his department’s evolution and asked audience members to “trust that we are doing the right things at the right time for you all.” Norman said he hoped that the community would meet MPD halfway.
Both Ball and Norman cited staffing as critical issues in their departments. Ball said it was her No. 1 issue. An inability to attract and retain correction officers means deputies are pulled off the street to keep the Milwaukee County Jail staffed, Ball said.
Norman and Ball addressed security at summer events and said both agencies will use a combination of uniformed and plainclothes officers to identify and prevent crime at festivals, in addition to traffic barricades as proactive measures. Norman said that at many summer events in Milwaukee, his officers will seek to be a “backdrop” instead of a “frontdrop.” Both stressed that reactive law enforcement is information based, encouraging the community to say something if they see something. Norman highlighted that the community’s lack of trust in MPD plays a role in the department’s ability to be reactive.
On the city’s reckless driving problem, Ball said her department is working collaboratively with suburban police and state patrol officers to identify “high tide” zones and beef up law enforcement presence and intervention at peak times and areas.
Norman and Ball stressed that crime in Milwaukee is a community problem that will be solved only in tandem with citizens, community partners, the judicial branch, and the Legislature.
The audience challenged Norman and Ball with comments and criticisms about mental health arrests. Norman and Ball stressed that law enforcement alone will not be the answer. On mental health arrests, Norman said that law enforcement in Milwaukee has a mandate to “stay in their lane,” and community partners in the mental health space are essential to answering the city’s crime problem. He highlighted community partners in the room doing that work, including JusticePoint, whose municipal court contract with the city of Milwaukee was recently terminated. Norman further emphasized the many task units now active in Milwaukee, including MPD’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). While these task forces are not unique to Milwaukee, they are not yet common in cities and towns across Wisconsin. Norman said his department was “ahead of the curve with specialty groups to handle these challenges.” Both he and Ball said that the training required to implement these programs needs to be received by the right people and it, too, factors in hiring.
Norman expressed willingness to explore further collaboration but hesitated to say that Milwaukee is prepared for officers to stop responding to mental health crises and for his department to do only “sworn work.”
Several audience members expressed concern about the prevalence of guns and gun violence. Norman highlighted collaboration with firearm retailers to prevent purchases by those with felony convictions and identify straw man purchases. Norman also highlighted a recent campaign calling on citizens to lock up firearms and remove them from vehicles, which could then be stolen. Ultimately Ball stressed that law enforcement walks a fine line between keeping guns off the streets and respecting citizens’ rights. Both agreed that further restricting firearm possession and distribution was principally a legislative issue.
Recent Marquette Law School polls reflect voters’ contradictory positions on safety and crime.
Although 77% of respondents report feeling personally safe from crime when going about their daily activities, an even larger percentage of respondents nevertheless cite crime as a top concern and want increased police funding.
In the latest poll results, a whopping 85% of respondents are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about crime. Indeed, 57% of respondents said they are “very concerned” about crime. Only 14% reported little or no concern about crime.
Among those polled, crime ranks third overall among nine issues of concern, behind inflation and public schools.
With respondents sorted by political affiliation, 79% of Republicans and 55% of independents are very concerned about crime, but only 37% of Democrats are very concerned about crime.
Increased police funding is favored by a majority of respondents regardless of political affiliation.
Overall, 78% of all respondents favor increasing state funding for police. By political affiliation, 95% of Republicans, 80% of independents, and 58% of Democrats favor increased police funding.
Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, announced the latest results at a presentation at the law school on Wednesday.
The poll measured opinions of 802 registered Wisconsin voters and was conducted between Oct. 24 and Nov. 1.
A prior recent Marquette Law School poll, released on Oct. 12, measured opinions on safety. When respondents were asked whether they felt safe from crime when going about their daily activities or whether they were worried about safety, 71% of Republicans, 76% of Independents, and 86% of Democrats responded that they felt safe.
Paru Shah, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, explains the conflicting data on personal safety versus concern about crime.
The significant concern about crime as an issue likely stems not from one’s own sense of safety but from political messaging of who is hard or soft on crime and how one affiliates with political parties, Shah said in an interview with the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
Those who identify with political talk about being hard on crime will more likely identify crime as an issue to be addressed when asked, she indicated. It’s not about “the actual ‘what’s happening in your neighborhood,’” but rather the messages that people hear about crime happening, she said.
“Crime” can also be coded language for Milwaukee, Shah said. Even someone who does not live in Milwaukee can consider crime to be a problem if Milwaukee is seen as a drain on resources. “People in Wisconsin probably do feel pretty safe,” but the narrative of a “big city that is kind of scary, is out there,” she said.
“Issues matter, but partisanship is the lens in which we look at those issues,” Shah said.
As noted by both Franklin when presenting the latest poll results and Shah after she looked at the numbers, the top three issues cited by Republicans do not overlap with those cited by Democrats.
Republicans cite accurate vote counts, inflation, and crime as their top three issues, while Democrats cite abortion policy, gun violence, and public schools.
Four of those issues — accurate vote counts, crime, abortion policy, and gun violence — may be seen as related to the justice system and recent cases in the courts.
On Aug. 2, four Democrat candidates running for the Milwaukee County sheriff position joined WJI in a virtual forum to answer questions about their professional experience, issues in the sheriff's department, and plans for the office if elected.
Candidates (alphabetically) Denita Ball, Brian Barkow, and Thomas Beal appear on the ballot. Mohamed Awad is conducting a write-in campaign.
Voters will choose between the candidates in the primary election on Aug. 9. Because no Republican is running, the winner of the primary is expected to win in November as well.
If you missed the Salon, or if you want to watch or listen again, click on the image below to view the recording. (Note: Candidate Awad appears in the video without a visual of his person. He did appear visually on screen in the Zoom meeting. However, because of audio difficulties he had to dial in to be heard, so a truncated phone number appears in the video while he is speaking.)
Recordings of this and several past Salons are also available on WJI's YouTube channel here.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Tuesday called for Milwaukee officials to develop and adopt enforcement guidelines and accountability measures for the recently announced stepped-up use of the city's curfew ordinance against juveniles and their parents.
"We have seen in the past valid concerns raised about police practices by the ACLU’s stop-and-frisk lawsuit," WJI President Craig Johnson said in a letter to Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Police Chief Jeffrey B. Norman and the Common Council. "Any policy that increases the number of police-citizen encounters and places too much reliance on police discretion raises concerns that these practices will again prove problematic to certain groups."
The ACLU suit resulted in the Milwaukee Police Department and the city agreeing to reforms in pedestrian and vehicle stop and search procedures. The ACLU presented strong evidence of racial disparities in who was stopped and searched.
Mayor Johnson and Chief Norman announced the increased curfew enforcement last week, in the wake of the mass shooting near the Deer District after a Bucks' game. No juveniles have been arrested in connection with the shooting, and Norman said the stronger curfew enforcement was meant to protect them.
WJI's Johnson said the move could worsen police-community relations unless "the city adopts and publishes accountability measures and enforcement guidelines."
"Curfew enforcement guidelines should make clear how police will enforce the curfew and who is at risk of receiving citations," Craig Johnson wrote. "Is a 16-year-old making their way home from a Brewers’ game going to get a ticket? How about a youth waiting at a bus stop after work?"
The city's primary curfew ordinance makes it illegal for anyone 16 or under to "congregate, loiter, wander, stroll, stand or play in or upon the public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, public buildings, places of amusement and entertainment, places of employment, vacant lots or any public places in the city either on foot or in or upon any conveyance being driven or parked thereon." Violations can bring forfeitures of $100-$200.
Parents and guardians can be cited if they "suffer or permit or by inefficient control to allow" violations by minors.
There are exceptions to the prohibitions. A youth can be out and about while with a parent or guardian or when "exercising first amendment rights protected by the United States constitution or the Wisconsin constitution, including freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and the right of assembly," according to the ordinance. A parent or guardian will not be held liable for any violation if they have filed with the police a missing persons report regarding the youth.
"How will an officer determine whether a young person qualifies for one of the exemptions in the ordinance?" Craig Johnson asked, adding, "What are the standards for deciding what parents are cited and when?"
Craig Johnson cited the city's "contributing to truancy" ordinance as an "object lesson in the need for enforcement standards."
In 1995, when lobbying for such an ordinance, then-Police Chief Philip Arreola said he was concerned about adults and businesses who "were responsible for contributing to the students (sic) absence from school by hosting parties and/or allowing students to congregate/loiter on their premises.”
The contributing to truancy ordinance, since then, however, has been used mostly against Black women, Johnson said.
"From 2015 through September 2020, according to Municipal Court statistics, 94% of contributing-to- delinquency citations were issued to women, 62% to Black people, 25% to Hispanic people, and 11% to Whites," he wrote. "That disproportionate caseload suggests inequitable enforcement."
"How will MPD ensure that police equitably enforce the curfew ordinances?" he asked. "Is MPD willing to publicly report the demographics and ages of those cited?"
He also asked whether businesses would be subject to curfew ordinances that apply specifically to them. One ordinance, for example, requires venues with a public entertainment license to announce an approaching curfew 20 minutes before it takes effect.
"All entertainment shall cease for the 20-minute period prior to curfew," the ordinance says.
Violations carry forfeitures of $500 to $2,000.
It also is generally illegal for a business to allow anyone under 17 to enter or stay on the premises after curfew, and hotels, motels, and rooming houses are prohibited from allowing anyone under 18 to "visit, loiter, idle, wander or stroll in any portion of such" business from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Violations of that ordinance carries forfeitures of $100 to $200.
'By Gretchen Schuldt
A proposed Milwaukee ordinance that would label some repeated traffic offenses a public nuisance was sent back to committee by the Common Council Tuesday after the city attorney's office said it was too broad and unenforceable.
"The ordinance would apply to a single violation of one of the listed traffic laws; and the listed traffic laws include both serious and relatively minor violations," Deputy City Attorney Todd Farris wrote in a memo. "For example, one violation for 'driving too slow' would, under the proposed ordinance, be a nuisance per se."
"We believe that in an injunction proceeding brought by the City, a court would likely conclude that the proposed ordinance is unreasonably broad....In other words, we do not believe that the proposed ordinance would accomplish the goal of making it easier for the City to obtain injunctive relief against problem drivers," he wrote.
Ald. Michael Murphy, the main sponsor of the measure, introduced it as a way to deal with the endemic reckless driving that is infuriating residents and threatening lives and limbs. Under the proposal, numerous driving offenses related to reckless driving, such as speeding, fleeing an officer, running stoplights, or driving on sidewalks, could be considered a public nuisance, allowing the city to file suit to seize the car involved. Murphy has said the ordinance was meant to target people stopped multiple times,
Some statutes included, however, go beyond reckless driving. One offense covered by the ordinance, for example, would be leaving a leaflet on a car.
In a memo provided by his office last week, the Milwaukee Police Department said the driving-related state laws included in the ordinance "were intended to broadly cover sections that refer to behavior that falls within the spirit of reckless driving, since not all reckless driving violations are cited under that specific statute. For example, driving on the wrong side of the road is perceived as "reckless' and could be cited under reckless driving... Not all subsections within those statutes may directly apply. They are broadly defined to buttress a nuisance litigation action under a nuisance per se theory."
The city attorney's opinion, also signed by City Attorney Tearman Spencer, suggested that "an ordinance declaring habitual or repeated violations of the more serious traffic laws to be a nuisance per se would stand a much better chance of being upheld by a court in an injunction proceeding."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Waupaca County District Attorney Veronica Isherwood, in an extraordinary letter to defense lawyers, said Waupaca County Sheriff Tim Wilz acknowledged that his department regularly alters reports to remove information that could help defendants establish their innocence.
"Additionally we have received information that reports to my office of these irregularities are discouraged," she wrote.
Wilz admitted the practice of altering reports in testimony, Isherwood said, but she did not give specifics.
"It was also disclosed that evidence of any changes were not preserved," she said in a letter addressed to county defense attorneys and dated Friday. "We have no idea if the reports in the case you are defending were changed or altered in any way."
The state, Isherwood said, has evidence that in one case, "Waupaca County Sheriff Captain Julie Thobaben altered a report authored by a deputy which resulted in the removal of exculpatory information. Captain Thobaben testified to her actions this week."
That is the only instance "where we are certain a report was changed, but the sworn testimony that this happens regularly is very concerning," Isherwood said.
Under the legal doctrine called the "Brady rule," prosecutors must disclose evidence that is exculpatory or helpful to the defense.
"Under normal circumstances you would receive notification of a Brady violation, only when an affected officer was subpoenaed to testify," Isherwood said. "The attorneys at the Waupaca County District Attorney('s) office believe under this circumstance, the spirit of Brady/Giglio makes it incumbent upon us to notify you of this irregularity."
"We pride ourselves on upholding an extremely high ethical standard in our charging decisions and prosecution of criminal cases," Isherwood said. "The loss of someone’s liberty is a tremendous responsibility that we do not take lightly. The Courts have been notified of this information," she said.
Third of three stories.
Marijuana was the second most-common target in residential drug searches conducted by police in Milwaukee County in 2019, well behind cocaine but ahead of heroin, a review of search warrant filings found.
Trailing far behind and seldom searched for were meth, opiate painkillers, and Ecstasy, according to an analysis by Marquette University journalists.
Rarely was marijuana – which Milwaukee County and many municipalities have taken steps to decriminalize – the sole drug targeted by police in a particular raid. That was the case in just 11 of 433 drug search warrants carried out at Milwaukee County addresses in 2019.
That year was chosen for the review because it was the most recent year unaffected by the COVID pandemic, which affected law enforcement and court operations.
But marijuana was in the search mix in 54% of warrant requests, most of them by Milwaukee police and multi-agency drug task forces.
Here’s the breakdown of how often police targeted each drug in the 433 searches:
Police reported nabbing 26 pounds of pot on a summer day in 2019 at a home on Milwaukee’s northwest side, but court records show no charges against the suspect until a separate incident in 2021.
In south suburban Greenfield, police investigated alleged gang members and made multiple arrests on marijuana, heroin and cocaine charges with help from a home search following neighborhood complaints in 2019.
No matter the drug, searches of residences were pretty effective in finding potentially incriminating evidence.
Police found drugs in at least two out of every three residential searches (67%). (Excludes canine drug sniffs outside homes.)
Sloppy or inconsistent reporting by police on public search warrant documents makes that statistic a little squishy. The actual number is likely higher. Sometimes police report finding evidence but don’t attach the inventory or otherwise specify results.
The “success” rate in finding evidence rises to 81% when including things such as weapons, drug paraphernalia, ammunition, and business records of dealing. (Again excluding the sniffs.)
Nearly every canine “odor search” included pot as a target in 2019, the review found.
That might be changing for some police departments as marijuana legalization spreads in the U.S. – though not yet in Wisconsin.
“Many jurisdictions that are buying drug dogs now are not having those drug dogs trained to detect marijuana, in anticipation of potential legalization in this state,” said South Milwaukee Police Chief William Jessup.
“If you have a dog that's trained to detect marijuana, you can't untrain that dog,” he added.
Jessup said South Milwaukee police are moving away from doing odor searches for marijuana.
What is the track record of “Bravo” and “Rex” and all those other drug-sniffing dogs that local police have reported using outside residences to build a case for doing a search of a residence?
The Marquette review found that in odor searches, police report the dog almost unfailingly found the presence of drugs. Police used positive dog hits to beef up their applications for far more intrusive search warrants. But the accuracy of police dogs has been questioned, and studies have shown that there are a significant number of false alerts – enough to raise questions about the usefulness of any single drug sniff.
The Marquette review found less interest in marijuana searches by anti-drug task forces that go after higher-level drug traffickers and employ officers from multiple agencies – local, state and federal.
The individual municipal police departments that conducted searches – and not all of them did – showed more interest in searching for pot.
Second of three stories
When police enter Milwaukee County homes without notice or invitation to search for evidence in the war on drugs, they overwhelmingly target low-income and predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee.
Nine of every 10 drug searches in 2019 were in the city rather than suburbs, and 75% of properties searched were occupied by Black residents, according to a new analysis by Marquette University journalists of every residential drug search in the county that year, the last before the pandemic curtailed many law enforcement activities.
In the somewhat rare instances of police searching the properties of White suspected dealers, they found illegal drugs slightly more often than at Black-occupied places subjected to searches (76% to 71%), the Marquette investigation found.
There were 433 drug searches in the county in 2019, or more than one a day. Given their geographic concentration, it’s safe to say that some ZIP codes in Milwaukee’s central city have seen many hundreds, even a thousand drug raids or more since drug enforcement ramped up starting in the 1970s.
More than half of drug searches (222) were in Milwaukee, concentrated in six ZIP codes, five on the north side and 1 on the near south side. They are 53206, 53209, 53212, 53204, 53210, and 53208. Together, they accounted for 51% of the drug searches in Milwaukee County.
Every case was different but details repeated: tips to police, drug buys by frequent informants, surveillance, allegations of violence, evidence fished from garbage outside suspected drug houses. In Riverwest, police targeted a guy with a prior drug record but came up empty in a search. Near North 5th Street and West Capitol Drive, a search netted 100 grams of cocaine, criminal charges, and a conviction. Some days brought as many as three or four searches; on others, none.
Weapons were frequent companions to drugs, turning up nearly half the time in these searches.
In 2019, weapons – mostly firearms ranging from handguns to assault rifles – were found significantly more often in searches involving Black suspects than suspects of other races (48% to 38%).
Police more frequently searched Black-occupied properties for weapons (66% to 46%), the Marquette analysis found.
Police and prosecutors in part explain the disparities by saying they focus on drug dealing, not possession, and that drug sales in predominantly Black, lower-income neighborhoods are more public and generate more violence and neighborhood complaints than in wealthier areas.
It’s common for far-suburban drug users to drive into the city or adjacent suburbs to buy and then return home to use.
It’s about economic ability -- the fact that somebody who lives in a million-dollar suburban house isn’t going to be dealing drugs out of the house and also can easily get drugs, said William Jessup, a longtime Milwaukee police assistant chief and current chief in suburban South Milwaukee.
“They just have to drive somewhere to get it, or call somebody to have them delivered,” Jessup said.
In the view of police-reform activists, politics plays a role.
Decisions by lawmakers, police and prosecutors to punish some crimes and not others and penalize some drug crimes more heavily than others shows that determining who is a “criminal” is a political decision.
“It’s a decision of who is policed, and who is punished,” said Devin Anderson, who has coordinated the LiberateMKE campaign to reduce the size of the Milwaukee police budget. He is a manager at the African American Roundtable.
Jessup said that while working under Edward Flynn, Milwaukee’s police chief from 2008-2018, the department determined that it was conducting too many police searches of homes every year, considering the results and costs. They cut back on drug raids, he said.
Still, in 2019, police in the county conducted 433 drug raids on properties.
Milwaukee police dominated the action, along with special state-federal task forces that go after higher-level narcotics organizations with assistance from MPD and other locals.
But in the two years since 2019, the number of drug search warrants in Milwaukee County fell dramatically, down to 279 in 2021, coinciding with the COVID-19 crisis and the racial reckoning following the killings of Breonna Taylor during a botched police raid in Kentucky and George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis.
An MPD spokesperson, Sgt. Efrain Cornejo, said there was no particular reason for the drop, and that police continue to support the effort against drug trafficking.
Despite police success in using searches to arrest drug suspects, some with experience in law say America can’t arrest its way out of the drug problem.
The root problem is that drug dealing is still attractive in areas where jobs and opportunities are less available, said David Budde, who worked eight years in the Milwaukee Metropolitan Drug Unit conducting drug investigations.
“It’s about a lack of economic health,” Budde said. “Why do men and women deal drugs? It’s the lure of easy money.”
In the most-searched Milwaukee zip code, the average income per-capita was just $13,743.
Milwaukee police sought no-knocks in two-thirds of home drug searches, Marquette investigation shows
First of three stories.
Recent changes affecting the Milwaukee Police Department could severely limit the use of no-knock searches in the city – but won’t completely end the practice.
That’s partly because state, federal and suburban cops conduct a lot of searches in Milwaukee on their own authority. And Milwaukee cops, in some instances, can still ask for no-knock warrants.
Another factor is just how normalized no-knocks became in the War on Drugs, with police saying the element of surprise protects officers and evidence.
As recently as 2019, Milwaukee police investigating drug dealing sought permission to use no-knocks in 77% of their searches, according to an investigation by Marquette University journalists.
And Milwaukee County court commissioners and judges almost always granted those requests (92% approval rate), the research found.
The year 2019 was chosen for this project because it was the most recent year unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, which hampered law enforcement and court operations.
No-knock applications presented by police sometimes pointed to strong evidence about suspects’ ties to firearms, violent histories, use of video surveillance, and use of guard dogs. In other cases, the evidence was more abstract, referring to the tendency of most drug suspects, but saying little or nothing about the specific suspect at issue.
The Marquette review also found that:
Even before the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission acted last November to limit them, the number of no-knock requests had been declining for two years in Milwaukee. That in part is likely to be attributable to the pandemic, which slowed police activity of all sorts. And out in the field, the actual use of no-knocks in real life – as opposed to just having permission to use one –had fallen close to zero in 2021, according to the Milwaukee Police Department.
The reality, however, is that the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission’s action in November 2021 didn’t completely ban no-knocks, even though the commission said it did.
City police officers working with multi-agency task forces, for example, can still help carry them out if they can convince top Police Department brass that announcing police presence before pushing inside is too dangerous or would harm evidence-gathering. It’s common for MPD officers and other local police to work on these task forces or special units.
And suburban police investigating a drug crime that spills over into Milwaukee face no prohibition on requesting a no-knock for a Milwaukee residence unless their own communities have banned them.
A suburban request came in Dec. 21 – after approval of the no-knock limits – when a police officer from Cudahy working with an FBI task force asked for and got judicial approval for a no-knock near W. Greenfield Ave. and S. 23rd St. in Milwaukee. The officer had evidence the alleged dealers would be armed. The search turned up heroin, cocaine, cash – and a gun, court records show.
But otherwise in December the new no-knock policy made a difference: no MPD officer requested a no-knock.
Milwaukee County Court Commissioner Barry Phillips approved the no-knock in that Cudahy/ FBI task force case, but he stood out in 2019 in a different way.
Phillips in 2019 showed a willingness to turn down police no-knock requests, a rarity among the 33 judges or court commissioners asked to approve them that year, the Marquette review found. He declined about 20% while handling considerably more search warrant requests than most others. By contrast, in cases handled by other judges or commissioners, only 2% of requests were declined – just three cases in total.
A national anti-no-knock movement flared in early 2020 after Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor during a botched drug raid. In Milwaukee, the debate over no-knocks also was influenced by the killing of Milwaukee Police Officer Matthew Rittner in 2019. He was shot while he and other officers were trying to enter a drug suspect’s home with a battering ram while carrying out a no-knock search.
Some in law enforcement see problems with overuse of no-knocks and the dangers the element of surprise carries.
One suburban police chief, South Milwaukee’s William Jessup, sees them fading away. He gives them extra scrutiny in South Milwaukee. That community, along with West Allis and Oak Creek, are the suburbs most involved in doing drug search warrants, based on the review of court records.
“A no-knock doesn’t necessarily make the officer safer,” Jessup said. “There’s probably some benefit in reducing the amount of drugs that are flushed or hidden, but to me that’s negligible.”
In low-level drug cases Jessup’s officers often do “knock and talks” instead of home searches when dealing is suspected. That can yield admissions of guilt, and an end to dealing, in exchange for avoiding imprisonment, he said.
David Budde, a former Milwaukee Metropolitan Drug Unit member and District Attorney chief investigator, helped conduct many no-knock drug raids.
“They’re dangerous – not just to the people inside, but they’re dangerous to us,” Budde said.
Still, both men agreed with a position advanced by top Milwaukee police officials during Fire and Police Commission debate: no-knocks should be an option if risk of injury to police is too high. (Police found firearms or ammunition or both in 45% of drug search warrants in 2019 in the county, according to the Marquette review of 312 cases for which full data was available).
Another former law enforcement official, former Milwaukee County prosecutor Hanna Kolberg, said no-knocks “should be used judiciously and carefully, but there are times where if you take the right tool away, things can happen and maybe worse or better.”
In Madison, majority Republicans in the state Legislature are considering reversing Milwaukee’s ban on no-knocks.
By Margo Kirchner
The mother of a man killed by police after she called to ask for a wellness check on her mentally ill son put it bluntly:
“How could you as a parent not blame yourself for that phone call?”
Toni Biegert's son Joseph was shot by police in 2015. She and others — family members of nine men killed by officers — testified recently before a subcommittee of the Assembly Speaker’s Task Force on Racial Disparities. The committee wanted specifically to hear from families impacted by disparities in law enforcement.
Joseph suffered from depression, and after Toni spoke with him by telephone that day in 2015 she worried that he would take too much medication, as he had threatened that previously. Toni said she could not get across Green Bay fast enough to get to Joseph herself.
When police arrived, Joseph, age 30, let them in and was cooperative, Toni said. Police checked for weapons but found none, she stated.
The officers decided to take Joseph into custody and when they patted down his pelvic area he reacted and pulled away. The scene then became chaotic, said Toni. Police took Joseph to the ground, punched him, and hit him with a baton. Toni said the police version of the scene includes Joseph dragging officers to the kitchen, where he obtained a knife from a butcher block and grazed an officer’s arm with it. Police then shot Joseph nine times.
Toni said she will never know the facts, emphasizing that “Joseph’s not here to tell his side of the story.”
Toni testified that her life will never be the same. She asked subcommittee members to put themselves in her shoes as the parent who reached out “to have someone just check on your child and he’s dead now.”
She questioned why police would take her son down and punch him merely because he pulled back when touched. In her opinion they should have calmed him down.
Joe’s only crime was that he suffered from mental illness, she said.
Toni called for mandatory crisis intervention training, or “CIT,” for every police officer, because one in five people suffers from mental illness. She charged that the officers who shot her son escalated the situation from the beginning of the encounter and that CIT could have affected the outcome.
Toni indicated that in response to her demands for mandatory CIT she has been told that no funding exists for it, and CIT remains a voluntary program. She questioned why CIT and compassion are not part of police academy training.
“Police officers need to know how to interact with people who are suffering” with mental illness, she said.
“At the end of the day, my son shouldn’t be dead,” she said.
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