24/48 - Release the Names, Release the Tapes!

MAARPR Facilitates Meeting between families and FPC over 24/48 Demands

What's Happened?

We started working on the issue of video footage release following the police shooting of Roberto Zielinski on May 30, 2021. Like many officer-involved killings, Zielinski’s murder raised many questions for us when we contacted family members whose narratives of the events conflicted with MPD's report. As we led events and rallies demanding the release of the footage pertaining to Zielinski’s murder, we realized that there isn’t a policy or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) requiring MPD to publicly release footage of critical incidents. MPD claims to follow a non-codified, best-practice of community briefings. At these briefings, they reveal some of the footage, and it’s usually heavily redacted. Footage pertaining to Zielinski’s case wasn’t released publicly until July 16, 2021.

In the months after Zielinski’s case, we began speaking with other families who had lost loved ones to police violence. Through these conversations, we recognized a common pattern in which MPD would withhold video footage for significantly longer than their “45-day limit.” They spoke to the pain they’ve experienced due to not knowing what exactly happened to their loved ones. They also explained the importance of seeing the footage promptly. When we asked them how quickly they’d like to see the footage, all the families said within days, and they ultimately agreed to 48-hours. They also agreed to having the names of officers involved in critical incidents released within 24-hours. Hence, we began referring to our demands for a policy that would accomplish this level of transparency as 24/48.

As next steps in this campaign, we decided to reach out to the Fire and Police Commission in April 2022 to better understand how a policy could be created in Milwaukee. We had an initial meeting in May, and they informed us that an SOP would have to be created from scratch. To their understanding and ours, this may be the first time the FPC has had to create this kind of policy from nothing.

This initial meeting was helpful, but we understood that the FPC had some skepticism about our demands. We had informed them that these demands weren’t simply ours. The families we’d spoken with and members of the public who expressed concern with the MPD’s lack of transparency supported these demands. We volunteered to facilitate a meeting between the FPC and the families, which was held in June 2022. Present in this meeting were the families of Jay Anderson (2016), Alvin Cole (2020), Samuel Rodriguez (2002), Larry Jenkins (2022), and Dontre Hamilton (2014). They all voiced support for 24/48, and they made it clear to the FPC that the policy would greatly benefit families who lose loved ones to police violence.

From these meetings, the FPC explained that they were in a period of information gathering. They pledged to consult with other community stakeholders and the MPD prior to crafting a proposal. In September 2022, they introduced their first memorandum regarding this SOP at the Policies and Standards Committee meeting. In the November Policies and Standards Committee meeting, another communication file was introduced pertaining to this SOP. The proposal recommended a 7-10 day limit for the public release of footage. It was an improvement over the MPD’s 45-day proposal, but it was still far away from 24/48. We have attended every Policies and Standards Committee meeting since September, and we’ve continuously reiterated our demands, which are the demands of the families and members of the public. Regarding the latter, we created a petition to voice support for 24/48, and we have been able to collect over 1000 signatures, demonstrating that our communities demand greater transparency from MPD.

We know that a policy like 24/48 will benefit our communities and help establish trust with MPD. However, at every single one of these meetings, the MPD representatives have swallowed up the majority of the time to voice their concerns with greater transparency. This was especially egregious at February’s meeting, which was a special meeting called by the Policies and Standards Committee to avoid waiting a month without discussing the SOP. MPD, along with representatives of neighboring police departments, kept speaking against transparency and presenting countless excuses as to why they couldn’t meet such high levels of transparency. They often cited the Milwaukee Area Investigative Team (MAIT) as the main reason for not releasing the footage within 48-hours. They failed to provide evidence supporting these claims, and they failed to acknowledge the opinion provided by the City Attorney. This opinion stated that there wouldn’t be such legal objections for the policy proposal.

We must also note that by February’s meeting, the SOP proposal had shifted from the 7-10 day limit to a longer 15-day limit with a myriad of exceptions for MPD to further delay the process. While we disagreed with the 15-day limit and all the exceptions, we did found the addition of a provision for families of victims to have access to video footage within 48-hours promising. This provision seems to have been to the displeasure of the MPD, for at the most recent meeting it had been removed. It was explained that this provision was removed from the proposal after consultation with MPD.

Where Are We Now?

Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a proposal regarding the shared revenue - LRB-2938: Local Government Funding. This proposal increases Milwaukee’s city and county shared revenue if they agree to do the following: reinstate police officers in Milwaukee Public Schools, preserve current staffing levels, at the minimum, of police officers, fund the police pension through an increase in the sales tax, eliminate the policy creation power of the Fire and Police Commission (FPC), and require representatives from the police association to serve on the FPC.

“Simply put, this is a racist and politically repressive attempt to coerce Milwaukee into accepting a pro-cop bill. Milwaukee is heading towards fiscal insolvency this year, almost entirely due to the growing police budget and pension,” said Alan Chavoya, the Outreach Chair for the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. “Republicans see this as an opportunity to revert progressive change in Milwaukee, and Mayor Johnson and County Executive Crowley seem poised to go along with it.”

On Friday, May 5, the Milwaukee Alliance held a press conference to officially announce the launch of their Fair Share campaign and denounce this anti-Milwaukee proposal. Following the passing of SOP 575 that requires the public release of video footage regarding critical incidents from the police, the Milwaukee Alliance understands the proposal as a direct shot against this victory. The Milwaukee Police Association (MPA) filed a temporary injunction against the FPC when the SOP passed.

“The MPA realizes that their arguments against the SOP don’t have much to stand on. Instead, with the help of their Republican friends, they are trying to change the law to get what they want,” said Omar Flores, one of the co-chairs of the Milwaukee Alliance.

“We demand a fair shared revenue. A fair share of the products of our labor and of what is owed to us. We demand the GOP to keep their hands off the FPC. Milwaukee deserves oversight power over the entities worsening the budget crisis, so we should be democratizing oversight, not disempowering it. We demand that police are kept away from public schools,” said Lauryn Cross, the other co-chair of the Milwaukee Alliance. “And we are demanding a town hall with Mayor Johnson and County Executive Crowley. No more backroom deals!”

According to various reports, Mayor Johnson and County Executive Crowley have been “negotiating”, and their past decisions supporting more police funding indicate that they are willing to comply with the proposal.

The Milwaukee Alliance was also joined by representatives of Black Leaders Organizing Communities and Students for Democratic Society - UW Milwaukee. This struggle around the shared revenue proposal is felt by a wide-range of groups in Milwaukee. Shortly after the Milwaukee Alliance’s press conference, they also spoke at one co-hosted by the MPS School Board and Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT). In 2020, LIT successfully organized a campaign to remove MPD officers from their schools, so this proposal directly challenges the democratic process that led to their removal in the first place.

The fight against the Republican-led attack on Milwaukee is on. The Milwaukee Alliance intends on carrying on this struggle and uniting various forces around the city to defeat shared revenue proposals that have these absurd strings attached. Since city officials cannot be trusted with listening to the demands of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Alliance and partners are also pushing for community control over the resources in the city.