New MPD Point & Aim reports show disparity where officers draw their guns

To get a better picture of what everyday officers are doing, the I-Team looked at the data from each of the seven police districts.
Posted: 5:29 AM, Nov 17, 2021
Updated: 2021-11-18 06:28:18-05
Milwaukee Police

MILWAUKEE — New data shows where Milwaukee Police Officers are pointing their guns at citizens across the city and advocacy groups are concerned what the details show.

Milwaukee Police started tracking when and where officers were drawing their firearms last December. The so-called “point and aim reports” were a practice by MPD in the past, according to Chief Jeffrey Norman, but as part of the department’s ‘Eight Can’t Wait’ campaign, as of December of 2020 officers were required to file a report every time they pointed a gun at someone.

The information acquired by the I-Team detailed every firearm drawn by police from December of 2020 to August 5, 2021. In total, 1,385 officers pulled their guns and pointed them at people in Milwaukee; 1,302 of those incidents took place in 2021.

To get a better picture of what everyday officers are doing, the I-Team looked at the data from each of the seven police districts. It filtered out guns drawn by officers in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Tactical Enforcement and Booking and Court as they are considered officers who may be in more dangerous situations more frequently.

For the first seven months of the year, one district stood out as drawing its firearms more frequently than anything. Officers at Milwaukee Police District 5 drew their guns 378 times. The next closest district, District 2, pulled their weapons 162 times.

“I am aware of District 5 in regards to their particular reporting numbers in regards to point and aim,” Norman said. “One thing that’s important in our point and aim reports, is to look at patterns and trends to see what is it that we’re missing? That’s our responsibility of accountability.”

The next two highest districts, District 2 and District 7, account for 313 total firearms drawn combined. The remaining four districts, District 6, District 3, District 4 and District 1, a total of 358 firearms drawn combined.

MPD districts

On the surface, it’s a startling disparity but Chief Norman points to the work those officers do as a reason for the difference.

“We have a group that we consider ShotSpotter Investigators,” Norman said. “We’ve seen a huge increase in ShotSpotter calls or shots being fired in our city. These particular officers [at District 5] are those responding and being involved in what you’d consider one of the most dangerous calls that officers respond to, understanding shots being fired, a firearm fired that shot.”

ShotSpotter is a relatively new technology that helps predict where a gunshot came from by triangulating its location based on where the sound of the gunfire is received from. Then officers will respond to those corresponding locations.

Norman says District 5 is the only one with ShotSpotter Investigators. MPD provided data on the top 10 types of calls each department responds to, acknowledging that Districts 2, 3, 5 and 7 responded to all but 1 ShotSpotter call in the city.

District 5, the only district with ShotSpotter Investigators, had fewer ShotSpotter calls, 2,735, than District 3, 3,174. However, when adding in Subject with Gun and Shots Fired calls, which are a different statistic than ShotSpotter calls, District 5 did respond to the most, 4,632. However, District 7 and District 3 had very similar responses, as seen in the table below.

Those two districts combined still had fewer guns drawn than District 5. Milwaukee Police say the reason for the numbers of guns drawn are because of that specialty ShotSpotter Investigator team at District 5.

MPD Public Information Officer, Sgt. Efrain Cornejo clarified the work of the ShotSpotter Investigators, saying, “The ShotSpotter team allows them to stay and be available in the ShotSpotter area during their shift, which allows them to respond immediately upon a ShotSpotter activation and more likely to encounter the actor. The other districts dispatch a squad that may not even be in the area as they do not have a dedicated unit. All use of force incidents are reviewed and if anyone violates the code of conduct they will be held accountable.”

The work by District 5 has proven results. For at least the last three years, it has recovered more guns than any other district in the city.

“They have a consistent number of guns recoveries year, after year, after year,” Norman said. “There is no peer comparison in regards to their gun recoveries. There is something to be said in regards to that. Yes, they’re out there responding to ShotSpotter calls, but they’re also recovering firearms.”

It should be no surprise, with District 5 having the most firearms drawn, that the ZIP code with the highest frequency of law enforcement firearms drawn is 53206; in the heart of District 5’s service area. It’s a predominantly Black neighborhood, just like many of the top 10 ZIP codes where MPD draws their weapons most. Eight out of the top 10 ZIP codes are predominantly Black.

“Why are officers drawing their guns more frequently in Black neighborhoods?” the I-Team’s Shaun Gallagher asked of Chief Norman.

“These officers are focused on ShotSpotter calls and behaviors,” Norman said. “But I’m not going to go and say, their activity should never be checked on or reviewed. They have been reviewed and they are continually being reviewed. One thing that’s important in our point and aim reports, is to look at patterns and trends to see, what is it that we’re missing? Understanding, there is a responsibility of accountability.”

MPD gun-drawing in Black neighborhoods

“It’s disturbing and heartbreaking,” Angela Lang, Director of Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) said. “It adds to the conversations where people really question the role of policing in our society.”

Lang says BLOC chose its location, which is in 53206, intentionally. As a community known for having the highest incarceration rate, the most poverty and highest unemployment rates, her organization is focused on bringing down the stigma to highlight the positives of the community. She fears this data is indicative of law enforcement entering the area with implicit bias.

“When it’s drilled into you to, make sure you’re safe, don’t walk around here in the dark, be aware of your surroundings, you’re going to continue to view this neighborhood in that way,” Lang said. “I can imagine, when you’re already told this neighborhood is threatening to you, you’re going to keep your hand on your holster. You’re going to feel like you always need to be prepared and ready. That really does come across in people’s implicit bias as well.”

“I don’t believe it’s a situation of just wanton behavior,” Norman said. “I would still challenge in regards to what data you’re using. I would say, it’s a concern to have officers drawing their weapons anywhere. The question should not be, why are officers drawing their weapons? What is going on with our communities that are using or have these particular concerns going on, with ShotSpotter reporting an uptick in firearm violence within respective communities in our city.”

Chief Norman on why D5 draws weapons more

When presented with MPD’s data showing more guns recovered and higher crime rates, Lang says it still doesn’t justify the disparity in firearms drawn in this part of the city.

“I think a place with more crime needs more care and compassion and understanding,” Lang said. “How do we get to the root cause of the crime that’s here? A place that has these stats like this, we need to get to the root causes of this.”

Chief Norman agrees.

“What’s driving this?” Norman said. “Why do we need to have these technologies and have these officers engaged in focused behavior intervention, because of what’s going on in our city? That’s the more important question.”

Groups like BLOC flip that question around, having more concern over officers’ behavior, given that eight of the top 10 ZIP codes where officers draw their weapons are predominantly Black.

“There should be [concern],” Norman said. “Whenever you’re dealing with any particular enforcement, there should always be scrutiny. Whether it’s Black or Brown, or dealing with all community members. That’s the accountability from our aspect that we’re responsible for to ensure integrity is there.”

Getting guns drawn on by police

A group of four African American men who work with BLOC say they’ve all been on the other end of police drawn firearms. Some say, it’s happened multiple times and one, for most of his life.

“I was about 9 or 10,” Deontae Robinson said of the first time he remembers having a Milwaukee Police Officer pull a gun on him. “Around those ages. And it happened multiple times.”

For all intents and purposes, Robinson’s record is clean. He has had a traffic violation and one charge, later dropped, for an expired conceal and carry license.

Experience with police

The 26-year-old father says even standard traffic stops have brought guns out on him.

“They get behind me, two cars deep over on 13th and Burleigh,” Robinson said. “They instantly pulled their guns out. I let the window down and made sure my hands were visible. They were like, you got any weapons in your car? I’m like yeah. I got my license to carry. He’s like, let me see your license. I’m like, why you pull me over?”

Robinson and the other men say this is common place for them. In this instance, Robinson says he was told he looked suspicious. Antonio Hampton says, he’s usually told he fits the description of someone else.

“You look like a suspect,” Hampton said. “Every time. That’s their first reason when you ask them, ‘why you stopping me?’ Oh, you look like a suspect.”

Hampton recalls a time when he was dropping his daughter off at her mother’s house, when police stopped him.

Men react to police stopping them

“Something happened in the neighborhood but before I can open my car door, they snatch me up,” Hampton said. “They didn’t ask my name, nothing. Just put cuffs on me, put me in the back of the car, guns to my head. My daughter looking at this whole thing like, what did he do? Well, he looked like a suspect. Then, when they got the call they caught the suspect, all they did was kick me out the car and took off on their business. Didn’t apologize or nothing. They had my daughter scared, my momma scared. They feared for their life because these people had guns to my head.”

All four men acknowledged, police have a dangerous job. However, they don’t feel it’s right for them to be judged based off where they live or what they look like.

“If you ain’t being threatened, why you need to protect yourself?” Hampton said. “If I ain’t a threat to you, why should you pull your gun out to me? Just because of the color of my skin? That’s not right. We want to live good lives too. We want to be out here with our kids, enjoying ourselves without police jumping out on us because we on the block barbecuing and they think it’s a whole gang or something. Because we’re having fun, we got to get jumped out and have guns pulled on us? That’s not right.”

Despite the high number of police weapons drawn in 53206, it’s a ZIP code that barely cracks the top 10 in crime rate across the city. To get an idea of how much crime is happening in certain areas of the city, Milwaukee Police track crimes including Arson, Assault, Burglary, Criminal Damage, Homicides, Locked Vehicles, Robbery, Sex Offenses, Theft and Vehicle Theft. From Jan. 1, 2021 to Aug. 5, 2021, 53206 accounted for 5.7 percent of the city’s crimes. The ZIP code with the highest crime percentage is 53218, at 8.4 percent.

“This data is one step and one part of that, but I’d be curious on how the Police Chief plans on really tackling the culture and the role of policing in our communities too,” Lang said. “We should be looking at every tool, every piece of data available to make sure that people are making the structural and necessary changes within the departments. It’s more than what people call ‘the bad apples.’ It’s more than getting rid of a few police officers and everything will be fine. This is a deep seated culture rooted in white supremacy that runs rampant in police departments, not just the Milwaukee Police Department, but overall.”

Norman says the department will continue to monitor and review data like this.

“There should be relief that we’re still checking,” Norman said. “We’re engaged. This is still an ongoing database being built. Do we have comparables? At this point, no. But we are paying attention. I always say, accountability is real to me. It’s not a catch phrase or one line word to use. If there are opportunities to ensure we are not going to have behaviors that we don’t find acceptable in our community, we will make sure those particular accountability measures are in place. But also look at the standpoint, are we putting forth the right type of training? The right type of support for officers to be the best version of themselves in response to community meetings?”

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