MPD bids to purchase tear gas, equipment ahead of DNC pulled over concerns it's been misused

MILWAUKEE -- A Milwaukee Common Council committee is saying no to Milwaukee police -- who wanted to purchase more tear gas. MPD requested purchasing bids to buy the gas and equipment used to deploy it ahead of the August Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. The city pulled MPD's request after an alderman raised concerns -- and MPD is asking the Common Council to reconsider.

The bids were made public Tuesday night, June 9. MPD wanted to purchase a tactical gas delivery system, gas masks, equipment and an aerosol projector irritant commonly known as tear gas.

MPD says those items were requested in February and March to be used to protect the community at the DNC, but Alderman Nik Kovac said the department misused the gas it had, and shouldn't be allowed to buy more -- adding tear gas should never be used on citizens.

"These are the kinds of weapons that should never be used, not even in war, and that we would use them on our own streets because people are exercising their First Amendment rights..." said Kovac. "Whatever it's intended for, it shouldn't be used. We shouldn't be using chemical weapons, especially during a time of global pandemic."

Alderman Nik Kovac

Alderman Kovac said people started calling him -- questioning why police needed this equipment. They complained that the department misused tear gas during peaceful protests following the officer-involved death of George Floyd.

Police told FOX6 they used the gas only after someone threw a Molotov cocktail at officers.

At a Finance and Personnel Committee meeting Wednesday morning, Kovac asked the city's purchasing director to pull the bid requests from the city's website. Other committee members supported Kovac's request.

It wasn't immediately clear if Kovac or the Common Council have the authority to stop police from buying this kind of equipment, but the purchasing director agreed to remove the bid. MPD is asking the council to reconsider, but council members are doubling down.

"We clearly have a department that's not getting the message," said Kovac. "We have a department that's going to keep asking for this stuff, so we need to keep saying no."

An MPD spokeswoman issued this statement to FOX6:

"The Milwaukee Police Department has been working diligently over the past fifteen months to provide a safe and secure event for the Democratic National Convention. MPD was notified this afternoon that the bid requests for key safety equipment necessary for the Democratic National Convention has been removed by the Purchasing Department due to pressures by members of the Common Council without any input from the Secret Service, Milwaukee Police Department or any other law enforcement agency.

"The bids to be submitted by the City of Milwaukee Purchasing Department were requested by the Milwaukee Police Department in February and March 2020. MPD had no role in the timing of the bids being released and the requests are in no way a response to the recent incidents that have occurred both locally and nationally.

"The Democratic National Convention and the thousands of participants visiting Milwaukee deserve a safe and successful event, which requires certain protective and tactical equipment. It is a standard request for most, if not all, law enforcement agencies called upon to provide security at a national security special event. The personal protective equipment and other devices that have been denied because of the Common Council are used to protect the community against armed suspects, hostage situations and active shooters.

"For the protection of the Democratic National Convention, the thousands of participants and the residents of the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Police Department asks that the Common Council reconsider this course of action."

The city's purchasing director issued this statement to FOX6:

"The Mayor supported the action that I took today.

"Moving forward, we will be consulting with MPD; the Secret Service; DNCC; and Common Council members."

Meanwhile, Alderwoman Milele Coggs introduced Common Council legislation that would require the Milwaukee Police Department to disclose its current inventory of military-grade equipment -- and a notice to the council before it could purchase any such equipment.

According to a news release, currently, MPD is not required to provide notice to the council when seeking bids on such militaristic items.

“We have seen questionable tactics used by Milwaukee police during the recent protests against injustices, including smoke grenades to disperse peaceful protesters,” said Alderwoman Coggs in the release. "In the spirit of transparency and accountability with the public, I believe it is important for the Council to be aware of the kinds of militaristic equipment that MPD is planning to purchase with taxpayer dollars. I look forward to having this discussion in public very soon with my colleagues and representatives from MPD."