Wisconsin police departments are withdrawing from agreements to send personnel to help bolster security at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee next month, citing concerns with a recent order for the city’s police to stop using tear gas to control crowds.
A citizen oversight commission last week directed Milwaukee’s police chief to publicly account for why the department used tear gas during protests in late May and early June after the killing of George Floyd and to change Milwaukee police policies to ban the use of tear gas and pepper spray. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission said in its order that Police Chief Alfonso Morales could be fired if he fails to comply.
That order comes amid intense scrutiny of police tactics at protests in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere.
Since the Milwaukee order was issued, police departments in Fond du Lac, Franklin and West Allis have backed out of assisting with providing security at the Democratic National Convention, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday . Their departure cast doubts on the viability of the program designed to bring about 1,000 officers from outside agencies to provide security at the convention, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 17-Aug. 20.
The convention, which will be held at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee, has been scaled down to a mostly virtual event, with only about 300 people expected to attend in-person. Most of the speeches will be delivered online from other locations, though former Vice President Joe Biden has said he will be in Milwaukee to accept the nomination. Despite the event’s smaller scale, police are preparing for potentially large protests in and around the venue.
A spokeswoman for the convention did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday. The Milwaukee police oversight commission also did not return a message seeking comment.
Fond du Lac Police Chief William Lamb told the Journal Sentinel that the agreements were collapsing, saying he expects other agencies in the state to also withdraw. Lamb chairs the Wisconsin Police Executive Group, which is made up of police chiefs from cities with populations of more than 20,000 people.
The withdrawals come as Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission issued a directive last week to the city’s police chief, Alfonso Morales, to change department policy to discontinue the use of tear gas and pepper spray.
Lamb sent a letter to Milwaukee police on July 6 outlining his organization’s concerns about limiting the use of tear gas and pepper spray. West Allis police first sent a letter to Morales with concerns in mid-June after Milwaukee’s Common Council temporarily halted the purchase of those chemicals.
“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 told the Journal Sentinel in an email.
Waukesha’s police chief said he was consulting with the city attorney’s office on how to withdraw from the agreement, which had promised about two dozen Waukesha officers.
The Milwaukee Police Department declined to comment on its operational plan, citing “security purposes and the safety of the delegates and those attending the Democratic National Convention.”