The Democratic National Convention is scheduled to take place August 17-20 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Due to a recent directive from the city’s Fire and Police Commission, the police department has adopted a new policy restricting the use of tear gas and pepper spray for controlling rioters. Since then, over one hundred police agencies already under contract to send officers to Milwaukee for crowd control for the convention are backing out of those commitments.
According to Milwaukee’s police chief, Alfonso Morales, over 1000 extra police were supposed to be hired via contracts with other police departments. Many of the communications he’s receiving from agencies backing out of their agreements with Milwaukee are citing the safety issues created by the new policy.
Robert Fletcher, the Deputy Chief for West Allis, Wisconsin, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, “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.”
Waukesha, Wisconsin’s police chief, Daniel Thompson, was also blunt: “I understand that use of chemical irritants and pepper spray is serious and those are to be used only when legally justified,” he said. “But when you take that out of the continuum that doesn’t leave the officers much other than getting harmed or using deadly force and that’s not good for any officer or the public.”
Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission is a civilian oversight board that sets overall policies for the city’s first responders. It also hires (and fires) the city’s police chief. Its relationship with Chief Morales is strained, as it has recently accused him of dragging his feet in responding to the commission’s demands for information on a variety of topics, including the use of tear gas to stop recent rioting. Morales has also come under fire from Black Lives Matter groups and state politicians sympathetic to their demands.
Liberals in many cities across the country have called for “defunding” police departments in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Other cities, like Milwaukee, believe that “no tear gas” policies will help solve the problem of violence in the streets. But taking those tools away from the police leaves few options for controlling violence, which political conventions sometimes attract. If this year’s protests and riots across the country are any indication, the Milwaukee event may be a magnet for trouble.
The Democratic convention this time around will be a much-scaled-down version of approximately 300 attendees due to COVID-19 concerns. It remains to be seen whether the inevitable protests outside the convention hall will remain peaceful during the event and, if not, whether the security for the event will be sufficient to deal with whatever arises.
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