MILWAUKEE — The state and at times the nation has focused on policing actions in southeast Wisconsin. Our partners at 620 WTMJ Newsradio devoted part of their look-ahead next year on their WTMJ 2021 series to public safety. Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth shared some lessons learned from 2020.
Protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd defined much of the summer. The nation turned part of its focus on Wisconsin later in the summer, after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake in August. At times the demonstrations turned violent at times.
“The first two days in Kenosha we were outnumbered,” said Beth recalling the start of the protests following the Blake shooting. “A group of a few hundred came down to the public safety building and we don’t have 200-300 deputies standing by the building to protect it.”
Beth said since then, he has spoken to other sheriffs and law enforcement officers across the country, and the lesson he passed on he believes will be the model for future protests.
“I would start calling for assistance right away when something happens because the atmosphere that’s going right now in the State of Wisconsin and really throughout the entire country, anything can erupt into a violent situation,” said Beth.
You saw that model play out last week in Wauwatosa following the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s decision to not charge Officer Joseph Mensah with killing Alvin Cole, 17, outside of Mayfair Mall. Police called in the national guard before the decision not to charge was made public.
But Beth says what does not help are so-called militia members like Kyle Rittenhouse, who is now facing homicide charges, showing up armed to a protest believing they are assisting the police.
“They came in and their intention was to intimidate, to scare and create confrontation. And they did exactly that. And we had a 17-year-old who shouldn’t have been carrying an assault rifle through the streets of Kenosha. He ended up shooting three people, with two of them dying. I couldn’t have asked for a worse ending to that Tuesday night than that,” said Beth.
The sheriff says despite all the challenges of 2020 people are still applying to become police officers, which he believes is an encouraging sign going into 2021.
“We still have great people that are rising to the top. But as getting the numbers of people wanting to do it. That is changing dramatically,” said Beth.