'Our officers are under siege:' Assistant MPD chief answers questions about tactics amid protests

MILWAUKEE -- From fires to shootings, and even a suspected Molotov cocktail being thrown at officers, Assistant Milwaukee Police Chief Michael Brunson said the measures taken by the Major Incident Response Team (MIRT) were needed to restore order on several occasions amid protests in Milwaukee following the death of George Floyd.

"Our officers are under siege in some of these situations," Brunson said. "Our officers are going to defend themselves and the public when they are in those situations."

During a virtual meeting Friday, June 5, real issues were discussed during a special meeting of Milwaukee's Public Health and Safety Committee which included Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, members of the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee Fire Department, Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and Milwaukee Common Council members.

With hundreds of questions sent in from concerned residents to the Common Council, five major themes were addressed"

    Wisconsin National Guard at MPD

    Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

    After a conference call with Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas, Governor Tony Evers and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Mayor Barrett defended his call to implement a curfew for a couple of nights and agreeing to the Wisconsin National Guard being brought in.

    "That was 125 individuals that have not been patrolling the streets," said Mayor Barrett.

    "The National Guard was used to secure our facility, and that capacity alone, and not for the law enforcement capacity," Brunson said.

    The mayor said considering the chaos that was unfolding in certain areas, the goal was to have critical infrastructure protected.


    "A total of 43 businesses were looted on that first night alone, so because of that situation, I did not want, and the chief did not want this city to sustain the damages, the injury, the pain that cities around the country sustained during this period of time," said Brunson.

    While those acts were done, perhaps, by a criminal element, peaceful protesters were caught in the middle.

    Law enforcement respond to protests near 6th and Fond du Lac in Milwaukee

    Protest outside MPD District 5

    "If we have a crowd that is peaceful and protesting, we do not engage that crowd with force," said Brunson. "If we declare an unlawful assembly -- means there are members of that crowd that are engaged in acts that may injure us or the public."

    With many upset with not only the death of George Floyd, but underlying emotions from past interactions with some MPD members, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton brought up the use of force.

    "We have replaced water hoses with tears gas," said Hamilton. "We replaced German Shepherds with rubber bullets. There is a disposition that needs to be changed."

    Molotov cocktail police said was thrown during protests in Milwaukee

    Meanwhile, Brunson said MIRT gave ample opportunity for the crowd to disperse on June 2 near 6th and McKinley.

    "The MIRT unit was created to use the minimal amount of force to get the situation under control, and everyone is talking about less-lethal ammunition, and smoke, and tear gas," said Brunson. "Those tools are meant to preserve life. Our MIRT unit has been in existence for 15 years. No citizen has sustained any significant injury or being killed during the deployment."

    And at the end of the day...

    "What will come out of this, I hope, is a serious look at how we police in America," Barrett said.

    MPD said all aspects of "use of force" incidents are under review.

    Meanwhile, some local leaders have called for a review of police maneuvers.

    Mayor Barrett announced the creation of a commission on police accountability and reform.