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Milwaukeeans renew debate about police pursuit policy

Posted at 7:59 PM, Jul 31, 2019

After every crash involving a police chase, there's renewed debate about the safety of Milwaukee's pursuit policy.

As it stands, officers can chase any car linked to violent crime, drug dealing or reckless driving, as long as they believe stopping the suspect outweighs the danger created by a pursuit.

But how do you quantify that danger? Vehicle pursuits have been characterized by the U.S. Justice Department as "possibly the most dangerous of all ordinary police activities."

The Milwaukee Police Department did not respond to a request for an interview, or provide pursuit stats for 2019, but Chief Alfonso Morales has been a vocal supporter of the department's current policy, saying it has led to the city's drop in crime and is necessary to keep the city safe.

But that doesn't necessarily match public perception. "I don't think police should chase at such high speeds through city streets because it always ends up in a crash — someone gets killed or hurt — it's just crazy," said Mary Ann Peterson.

Milwaukee Police Officer Charles Irvine Jr. was killed last summer when the squad he was in crashed during a pursuit.

That same year, 2018, there were 940 total police pursuits. In those pursuits, 20 other Milwaukee Police officers were injured, along with 165 pursuit subjects. Five of them died.

When it comes to getting results, about 38% of those total pursuits resulted in an arrest.

"I completely understand why people would say let's end these pursuits," said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis. "But do you want a person who has committed a crime and is behaving recklessly to just be able to drive off and go free with no type of consequence?"

"I don't think police should chase at such high speeds through city streets because it always ends up in a crash — someone gets killed or hurt — it's just crazy." — Mary Ann Peterson

Lewis pushed for the current pursuit policy, which was enacted in 2017 to better address mobile drug dealing and reckless driving. Before that, "officers could only chase a car if they had probable cause the people inside were involved in a violent felony."

The new chairman of Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission, Steven DeVougas, said there is no plan to change the policy, but they are open to reevaluating it.

We also reached out to Mayor Tom Barrett, who said he didn't have availability to talk about this issue Wednesday but would be happy to discuss it another day.