The Madison Police Department is one of more than 100 police agencies withdrawing from agreements to send personnel to bolster security at next month’s Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, but the city says its decision was made before a recent directive ordering police in the city to stop using tear gas to control crowds.
In March, the City Council approved sending up to 100 officers to the convention that had been scheduled for July 13-16 but has now been pushed back to Aug. 17-20. The officers would have been deployed to the city for 10 days around the Fiserv Forum, where the convention was to be held before the pandemic hit and the national party limited attendance and in-person events and moved it to downtown Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Center.
Under the original plans, Milwaukee would have reimbursed Madison some $1 million for the police presence.
Madison assistant police chief Paige Valenta said in an email Tuesday that Madison notified Milwaukee early this month that “an accelerating COVID-19 pandemic coupled with ongoing protests in Madison have strained city of Madison Police Department resources to the degree that we are no longer able to commit any resources to the August 2020 DNC.”
The city’s decision came before Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission issued a directive last week to Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales to stop using tear gas to control crowds, saying he could be fired if he refused. That order came amid intense scrutiny of police tactics at protests in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Since the Milwaukee order was issued, more than 100 law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin and across the country decided against coming to Milwaukee, Morales told WTMJ-TV on Tuesday. They were concerned with directives placed on the police department, including not allowing tear gas or pepper spray, he said.
Morales did not say which agencies would not be coming or how many officers were still expected. The original plan was to have 1,000 officers on hand from outside agencies to assist with security. Morales said using the National Guard or enlisting federal assistance was under consideration.
The convention 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.
Fond du Lac Police Chief William Lamb told the Milwaukee 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.
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.