MILWAUKEE — In the last three days, one innocent bystander was killed and at least seven people were injured in two crashes stemming from police pursuits.
It’s a fine line between holding criminals who speed away from police accountable and keeping everyone safe on city streets.
Katie Crowther sat down with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson to talk about whether the city’s current pursuit policy is in the public’s best interest.
The mayor and Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission acknowledge that Milwaukee’s pursuit policy is always up for review and possible changes.
“Police Chief Alfonso Morales and I, our offices, have talked about it as recently as this morning,” said Barrett. “We never want to put innocent people’s lives in jeopardy.”
But the mayor and MPD leaders said there’s been a reduction in crime since September 2017, when the city’s pursuit policy was broadened. That includes a nearly 30% drop in carjackings, according to the Fire and Police Commission.
“Pursuits are one of the things we have to engage in, we feel, in order to properly address the issues and crimes in our city,” said Brunson.
Brunson pointed out that 33% of all police pursuits are canceled by an officer or supervisor to minimize danger. While officers are always trying to mitigate any injury or loss of life, he said having a broad ability to chase is critical.
“Criminals have to know we are going to pursue them,” he said. “One of the most tragic incidents that occurred this year was the death of 3-year-old Brooklyn Harris. We had a vehicle description, and it was a pursuit by officers who saw the car that led to the capture of the individual who committed that heinous crime.”
"Pursuits would not even exist if individuals would simply pull over when a police officer gets behind them and turns on the lights.”— Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson
The police department is asking for help from community organizations and parents to stop what they call the root of the problem — those who take off from police in the first place. Brunson said the average age of those fleeing from police is 20.
“We need community partners in this to implore young people not to engage in this type of conduct,” Brunson said. “Pursuits would not even exist if individuals would simply pull over when a police officer gets behind them and turns on the lights.”
In terms of MPD training, every officer has to pass a national course and test every two years that simulates high-speed pursuits and the critical decision-making used during them.