Police training expert says 'I can't breathe' resolution is redundant under MPD policy, others disagree

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales declined to talk about the "I can't breathe" policy -- but a national law enforcement consultant tells FOX6 that a new policy isn't necessary since Milwaukee police are already required to call for medical help.

"I'm sure the common council means well," said Emanuel Kapelsohn with Peregrine Corporation.

Emanuel Kapelsohn

As Kapelsohn sees it, Milwaukee police policy already requires officers to call for medical help when a person in their custody claims to be in distress.

"If they request it, the officer is supposed to summon it," Kapelsohn said.

Kapelsohn is a longtime police training expert and says that the "I can't breathe" resolution proposed by Alderman Russell Stamper and unanimously approved by the Milwaukee Common Council on Monday is redundant.

"I'm not sure that there's any more policy that needs to be written," said Kapelsohn.

Milwaukee Police Department policy

Darryl "King Rick" Farmer

Black activists disagree.

"I don't think it'll be redundant, I think it'll save lives," said Darryl "King Rick" Farmer with Black Panthers of Milwaukee.

All 15 members of the Milwaukee Common Council disagree, too.

"It would be better for us to err on the side of caution," Alderwoman Chantia Lewis said.

"I want this done immediately," said Stamper. "If someone says, 'I can't breathe,' you got to let them go."

The resolution urges the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to adopt a new policy -- with one important clarification.

Chantia Lewis

"Not to release them from custody, but to release them from that particular position," said Lewis.

The resolution is a response to George Floyd's plea for breath in Minneapolis -- and to the Milwaukee Police Department's own history of black men dying in custody when officers ignored their cries for help.

Those words -- "I can't breathe" -- were said by James Perry in 2010 and Derek Williams in 2011; both died in Milwaukee police custody.

"I want individuals to know that they have something they can say to prevent them from dying," Stamper said.

Russell Stamper

"Magic words won't do it. These are fact-driven situations," said Kapelsohn.

Whatever the policy says on paper, Kapelsohn and Common Council members agree -- officers need to follow it so the people they arrest can live to have their day in court.

Alderman Stamper's "I can't breathe" resolution urges the fire and police commission to adopt a new policy, but there's no requirement for that to happen. FOX6 left a message for the Fire and Police Commission; that message was not immediately returned.