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Fire and Police Commission Requests MPD Audit of Sterling Brown Incident

Maayan Silver
(L to R) Commissioner Dr. Fred Crouther, Chair Steven DeVougas and Executive Director La Keisha Butler listen to public comment at the Fire and Police Commission meeting Thursday June 7, 2018.

The Fire and Police Commission is mandating that the Milwaukee Police Department conduct an audit of the Sterling Brown incident.

Brown is the Milwaukee Bucks rookie who officers tased and arrested last January after finding his car parked across two handicapped spots at a Walgreens on the south side.

Body camera footage shows officers antagonizing Brown, who is African-American. He appears not to warrant the tasing. Brown was not charged with a crime. A number of officers have been disciplined for their role in the altercation. 

Since then, media outlets have obtained and shared additional video, that’s prompted more outrage. Many Common Council members have called for an audit. Some aldermen and community leaders say the incident highlights problems with police-community relations, especially among black residents.

The Fire and Police Commission added its voice Thursday night, saying commissioners are concerned about a number of aspects of the incident and want a full report from the police department.

Executive Director La Keisha Butler read the contents of a letter to Police Chief Alfonso Morales, demanding the audit. Part of the letter included details from the additional body camera footage that had been provided to Brown's attorney and obtained by media.

"In one clip an officer can be overheard requesting overtime and bragging about making extra money while waiting for a tow truck to retrieve the vehicle Mr. Brown was driving," she said. "In another clip, an officer sitting in a vehicle marked with supervisor can be seen and heard commenting on how this incident will be perceived by the public."

Butler saud there will be three phases of the audit, including production of reports and footage, analysis by the chief, and then recommendations for policy changes.

She said the policy changes may include rewrites to standard operating procedures relating to body camera footage review, open records responses, and taser usage. "Your audit of this incident should include all aspects of the department’s handling of this critical incident, including, but not limited to, initiation of the investigation, procedures followed and steps taken to conduct the investigation, including personnel assigned to conduct particular segments of the investigation and review of the results of the investigation."

The Fire and Police Commission told the MPD that it must prepare the audit for a presentation at the Common Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee in late July.

Credit Maayan Silver
A full house at Thursday night's meeting of the Fire and Police Commission at City Hall.

One community member at the meeting said she’s glad that the Fire and Police Commission decided to give direction and outline the three phases of the audit. But Angela Lang, the executive director of BLOC, or Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, said it’s only one step on the path forward. “For me, I’ll be more interested in what actually comes of it, and not just putting something in writing, but actual substantial changes occur after the three phases have happened and how the community is involved in every step of the process, and making sure that it’s transparent."

Other citizens at the meeting also raised concerns about transparency. One citizen called for criminal charges of the officers involved in the Sterling Brown incident. Another said there’s a double standard for police interactions with caucasians and people of color.

Markasa Tucker, leader of several advocacy groups including the African-American Roundtable, said people’s lives are at stake. "And if we continue to allow officers to stay in their positions after they have abused their power, what do with think we’re going to have? We’re going to have more lawsuits. Everybody, we’re tired of paying for all this. The taxpayers are absolutely tired."

There have been millions of dollars in settlements in recent years involving police misconduct on the MPD. Police Chief Morales did not immediately respond to the Fire and Police Commission’s order to conduct an audit of the Sterling Brown incident. But in recent weeks, he’s said he’s sorry for improper behavior by officers, and he’s pledged to improve police-community relations.

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