'People are being lumped together': MPD chaplain speaks out on stressful summer for officers

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Posted at 5:34 AM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-20 08:41:57-04

It's been a rough summer at the Milwaukee Police Department, according to the department's Chaplain.

Chaplain George Papachristou, a former Milwaukee Police officer, said the recent protests and unrest across Milwaukee - following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis - have put the department under added strain.

"Morale was very difficult to maintain as the protests, and some of the unrest, continued to greater levels here in Milwaukee," Papachristou said.

"Our guys were working 18-20 hour days, sometimes 13-14 days in a row without a break, and you can imagine the emotional and physical toll that took on them," he added.

MPD officials previously said this summer's violence and unrest have pushed many officers to leave the force.

At least 75 officers have resigned or retired so far in 2020, with more than 1/3 of those retirements and resignations coming since the end of May.

In all of 2019, a total of 69 officers retired or resigned.

Some Milwaukee businesses were looted the weekend after Floyd was killed.

Days later, police used rubber bullets and gas on a large crowd at 6th & McKinley, alleging some demonstrators had thrown objects at them.

An arrest of one of the demonstrators that day has now led to MPD reviewing officers' use-of-force during that incident, after video of the arrest went viral on social media.

Late last month, a chaotic scene unfolded near 40th & Lloyd. A large crowd set fire to a home after they mistakenly believed a pair of missing girls to be inside, according to Milwaukee Police.

Papachristou said some members of the crowd threw bricks at Milwaukee Police officers and at the Milwaukee firefighters on scene trying to put out the blaze.

"When it comes to destruction of property, to harming people physically, it's no longer peaceful," Papachristou said.

"It's very difficult for our officers to process why they're being yelled at, why they're being called names - sometimes very derogatory names - while they're only out there protecting those people," the Chaplain said.

Papachristou also spoke out about a recent move by Milwaukee's Common Council to explore reallocating 10% of the police department's budget to other city programs.

In a tweet, Milwaukee Police said 10% of MPD's budget is $29.7-million, or "the equivalent of approximately 375 police officers," if all the cuts went into personnel.

"Losing 375 officers is the equivalent of shutting down District 5, District 7, and Sensitive Crimes," MPD said in a separate tweet.

In a previous statement on the proposal, Common Council President Cavalier Johnson said the resources would be "instead reallocated to critical community needs such as housing, the health department, and violence prevention, as well as funding the work of the Community Collaborative Commission."

"Let's keep in mind that the 2020 police budget consumes just over 45% of the City's general fund revenues compared to funding for the Milwaukee Public Library (at just under 4%) and the Milwaukee Health Department at just over 2% for the same year," the statement continued.

"Police and community are symbiotic," Johnson said. "We need each other. But it's also true that it is past time for that relationship to be re-examined so that we can address the historical, institutionalized problems that have created system oppression and far too many deaths for African Americans, people of color, and other affected groups in this country for decades and indeed centuries."

Papachristou said he sees things differently.

"Are there outliers here and there that cause problems, just like in any profession? Absolutely. No one's denying that," Papachristou said. "But right now, there's a blanket being cast over the entire profession. People are being lumped together, and that doesn't seem fair to our officers."

"I think, if a certain profession is having problems in the way they're performing their job, if anything, they should have more funding to provide the necessary training," Papachristou said. "So it's kind of a catch-22 for our officers to understand. If you want us to have more training, then how do you take money away from the budget so we can't have that training?"

To help officers manage the pressures of the job, Papachristou said the department's wellness team includes an in-house psychologist that caters specifically to Milwaukee Police Officers.

He said the department also maintains a peer support team, and he provides faith support to officers - of all faiths and backgrounds - through the department's chaplaincy program.

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