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Aldermen Call for Police Body Cameras, Diversity Training After Hamilton Decision

Erin Toner

Some Milwaukee aldermen are calling for policing reforms in the wake of Monday’s decision in the Dontre Hamilton case.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced he would not charge a former police officer for killing Hamilton in Red Arrow Park in April.

The DA says Christopher Manney firing 14 shots to stop Hamilton was self-defense because the mentally-ill man began fighting. Federal prosecutors now plan to review the case for possible civil rights violations.

The proposals from alderman aim to prevent deaths of citizens in police custody and improve police/community relations. Ald. Milele Coggs was the first to speak at a Tuesday press conference at City Hall. She said she believes everyone in the community feels some pain over Dontre Hamilton’s death.

“But we have an opportunity. As legislators, and as members of Milwaukee’s Common Council, to advocate for and create solutions. So that other families, for as much as we can, don’t have to go through the suffering and pain that the Hamilton family is currently going through,” Coggs says.

One proposal the five council members are recommending, is to create a community advisory group. Ald. Russell Stamper says it would suggest strategies for police to maintain positive, productive relationships with residents.

“For those who claim that there was a breach of trust with the Hamilton family or this community – newsflash. It was never there,” Stamper says.

Stamper says the council will also re-evaluate the diversity training officers receive and seek a new provider for the training.

The third proposal is to begin publicly vetting members of the city’s Fire and Police Commission, and expand the group from seven to nine members. The commission sets policy and procedures for the police department and reviews citizen complaints.

Ald. Willie Wade described the group’s fourth suggestion – to equip every Milwaukee police officer with a body camera to record their interactions.

“That is necessary for protection of the community and the citizens and also protection for our police officers,” Wade says.

The council has allocated $100,000 in the 2015 budget for 50 cameras. Wade says getting a camera for every MPD officer will cost the city close to $1 million.

The final proposal aldermen outlined Tuesday is to create a system to monitor individual officers for indicators of violent or aggressive tendencies.

“We want to have a way of tracking complaints against police officers that would give early warning flag signals so that we can follow up and give those officers the counseling that they would need in order to address whatever type of issues that may be coming up through the course of their interactions with the public,” says Ald. Ashanti Hamilton.

The aldermen say the proposals are only the beginning of a reform process, and they’re looking forward to working with their colleagues and the public on other ideas.

The Milwaukee Police Department issued a written response, saying it welcomes the aldermen’s interest in the department’s efforts to provide the city with police services of the highest ethical and professional standards. The MPD also notes that the “substantive changes” city leaders are suggesting have either been implemented or are underway.