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Milwaukee Common Council creates task force to establish unarmed first responder program

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Posted at 9:23 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 22:23:54-04

MILWAUKEE — An effort to reform policing in Milwaukee by creating an unarmed first responder program is making progress.

The Milwaukee Common Council unanimously passed a file Tuesday that will create a 'Diversion Task Force' with the Milwaukee Police Department. The task force's goal is to create a master plan that will help guide the process of creating the unarmed first responder program.

The program is part of an effort to make the city's policing more equitable.

The calls of service the program will respond to will be non-violent: people experiencing mental health, substance abuse or homelessness crises. The first responders will be trained to deal with these kinds of issues, rather than responding with armed police officers.

Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, the sponsor of the file, outlined the task force in a statement.

The task force will consist of 17 people: three Council members, the Executive Director of the Fire and Police Commission, the Director of Emergency Management and Communications, two members from each of the fire and police departments, two members employed by Milwaukee County, two members of the community, and two members with research and academic experience.

"Our community deserves an equitable policing system, and this helps get us one step closer to achieving that goal," Lewis said. "I look forward to this task force getting up and running in the near future and reviewing their findings and recommendations later this year."

The Milwaukee Common Council is following a strategy laid out in a resolution it passed in October of 2020.

Council members Chantia Lewis, Nik Kovac and Milele Coggs argued in that resolution that there are situations where armed first responders, such as law enforcement, are not necessary to assist people who do not hold a threat to the public. A different, new approach to those situations is thus necessary, the council members argue.

The Milwaukee fire and police departments, with help from the Fire and Police Commission and the Milwaukee Health Department, would take point on creating that interim plan, per the resolution.

The resolution also calls for an alternate non-emergency phone number to be used by the public in lieu of 911.

The Fire and Police Commission will be directed to present the interim master plan to the Common Council within six months of the adoption of the resolution.

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