About 100 people packed into a room at the Washington Park Senior Center on Wednesday night, to voice their concerns about relations between Milwaukee police and the communities they serve.
Several incidents in the past few years have put a strain on relations — including the arrest of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown earlier this year. Brown was apparently parked across two spots outside a Walgreens on Milwaukee’s south side, and video show police using a taser gun on Brown while questioning him. Brown wasn’t charged with anything.
The town hall was the first of three the police will hold on the subject of community relations this fall. Most people at Wednesday night’s session said there’s room for improvement.
Dozens of people milled about before the meeting started, and had plenty to say about the state of police-community relations in Milwaukee. Eva Roberson thinks relations could be better. She says she gets a little nervous when she sees a squad car in the vicinity.
“Even when they’re following behind you, you think oh, they’re getting ready to stop me, was I speeding? There’s a fear factor and I would like to be more comfortable,” Roberson says.
Curtis Browning says the few encounters he’s had with police have gone well. But, he knows people who’ve had negative experiences. He thinks some officers need to brush-up on their sensitivity training.
“Treat one how you want to be treated, values at which we would want to raise our children around and go to school with,” Browning says.
Another person here is Mary Walker. She says she’s concerned about violent crime in her neighborhood, and says it’s important that the community work with police to reduce it.
“As time goes on, hopefully they’ll get better at cutting down on the crimes of stealing and car chasing and shooting,” Walker says.
Several members of the police department were on hand to answer questions, including Assistant Chief of Patrol Michael Brunson. He says recently, the department has been emphasizing the importance of officers giving proper ID to people they stop. That includes giving their name, title, badge number and reason why the person was pulled over. Brunson says the goal is to make people more comfortable.
“Nobody wants to be stopped for no reason and so we want to give that reason up front. We want to make that part of the introduction that’s done by every police officer when they conduct a stop. We’ve seen footage where people are upset initially so our officers are to provide that information as quickly as they can,” Brunson says.
Brunson says one important training tool is body cameras. The department started equipping officers with them two years ago and now every member has one. Brunson says they’ve been a “game changer” for the department.
"Body cameras allow us to address training issues that we might not have noticed before. When we can look at a situation and see how it occurred, how it unfolded, then that really gives us an indication as to what we need to work on as an agency to improve,” Brunson says.
Brunson acknowledges that a level of trust needs to be restored between police and the communities they serve. He says it’s important for people to understand why police do some of the things they do, and points to the “Citizens Academy” as a good educational tool. A couple times a year, the department offers an eight-week program to the public, so people can get a better understanding of police training and principles.