An Open Letter to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

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An Open Letter to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Sent January 4, 2019.

 

Honorable Tom Barrett
Mayor, City of Milwaukee
City Hall
200 E. Wells Street
Room 201
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Dear Mayor Barrett,

On New Year’s Eve yet another Milwaukee police chase ended with the deaths of three – one being a two-year old child. I am beside myself with grief – for that child and for the City of Milwaukee.

How, other than in a totally political environment, could Milwaukee have fallen so very far in such a short time?

On Thursday, December 6, the Milwaukee Police Department announced that carjackings were down. Fox6Now reported that “Police credit change in pursuit policy for dramatic decrease in carjackings.” This is a story about Milwaukee’s quest to reduce joyriding and stolen vehicles. It is an honorable mission, but officials are using a seriously flawed and incredibly deadly battle plan.

Is it not true that carjackings were already declining under the former, safer pursuit policy, because that policy specifically did permit pursuits of carjackers?

Almost all of Milwaukee’s 2018 pursuit-related deaths and many injuries were as a direct result of MPD’s new, weakened policy that permits dangerous high-speed chases for traffic offenses. Yet it would appear that this new policy’s only actual results are many more dangerous chases, more innocent bystander deaths and injuries, and even an officer’s death – virtually all for non-violent felony pursuits.

Fox story referenced a critical statistic. “In 2017, there were 386 pursuits. As of Dec. 6, 2018, there had been more than 800.These stats indicate MPD will conduct over 900 pursuits in 2018.  Officers and innocent citizens were placed in danger 500 times more in 2018 than in 2017. How can this be acceptable to anyone?

Milwaukee residents and visitors to the city have a very real reason to be frightened. Think about it: These stats represent an average of 18 life-endangering pursuits per week, and that does not include the many pursuits started in surrounding jurisdictions which later cross into Milwaukee.

So, I ask you sir, “What is the price, in human life and suffering, that Milwaukee is willing to pay to apprehend speeders, other non-violent felony driving violators and stolen vehicles?”

I also ask you another critical question. What happens to those who are apprehended under this revised and dangerous policy? I contend that the answer is no different than under the previous MPD administration’s more restrictive and safer pursuit policies – not enough.

There are many other questions you should be asking and answering.

  1. Based on 18 pursuits per day, do you REALLY BELIEVE this new policy is working?
  2. Does the DA ever charge for “felony eluding?” I haven’t heard anything about that.
  3. What happens to apprehended car thieves?
  4. Are all of these “dangerous criminals” being convicted?
  5. Are these criminals ultimately serving any jail time, or simply being released back onto the streets 48 hours after their apprehension?
  6. How many stolen-vehicle pursuits end in the stolen vehicle being totaled or damaged anyway?
  7. With an obscenely high 900 pursuits in 2018, have you consider comparing Milwaukee with other major cities? I am willing to bet that such a study will show Milwaukee is wildly out of statistical norms.
  8. If this greatly weakened pursuit policy is actually working, shouldn’t pursuits be declining, not rising like a SpaceX rocket?
  9. And, if this policy was actually working, shouldn’t pursuit-related deaths and injuries be declining? That is obviously NOT the case.
  10. In the New Year’s Eve pursuit, both the old and new policies would have authorized the initiation of a pursuit. But there are still questions even in this case.
    1. Was policy followed once the pursuit exceeded 80mph on city streets?
    2. At what point should the safety of citizens have been deemed more important (by the pursuing officers and their command) than the desire for immediate apprehension of this suspect?
    3. Did any of the pursuing officers have MPD’s already-deployed GPS technology? That would have allowed a tag and follow-safely scenario.
    4. Finally, consider this:
      If that little girl had been a hostage held in a building, she likely would have been freed during MPD’s hostage negotiations. But there is no negotiating at 90 mph, just sudden and unnecessary death.

If officers had shot and killed as many people as have died in Milwaukee’s 2018 pursuits, you and city alderpersons would be demanding investigations, changes, and corrective actions. Yet, because these deaths were caused by 3,000-pound bullets and not those fired from guns, there is a deafening silence from city officials.

There is no dishonor for public officials to reassess policies that are not working. In fact, that is an obligation. Yet I contend, for contentious political reasons, Milwaukee officials are conveniently ignoring the facts and are forgetting those killed and injured in these 2018 chases.

These people, their stories, their families and their friends simply end up as collateral damage, forgotten before the wreckage is swept from the street.

But I do not forget. Ever. It’s personal for me; and has been since my son was killed in an equally unnecessary police chase.

Innocents are already killed too often in violent felony situations. Unnecessary bystander deaths as a result of non-violent felony chases makes it even more critical that Milwaukee return to a safer, violent felony-only pursuit policy.

If you missed the daily carnage reports, here are several truly horrible 2018 consequences caused by Milwaukee’s weakened pursuit policies.

  • Milwaukee police officer Charles Irvine killed. LINK
  • A 65-year-old woman killed. LINK
  • MCTS driver in critical condition. LINK
  • 3 dead, including 2-year-old. LINK
  • One dead, two seriously injured. LINK

Other major cities invest in training and technology to reduce pursuits and still catch criminals. Milwaukee already has an excellent start using technology that will reduce the need for unnecessary pursuits. As I understand, the original MPD 2018 budget had additional funds allocated to equip even more police vehicles with GPS technology. Did they take advantage of this?

Unless saner minds prevail, there will most certainly be more Milwaukee police chase deaths, injuries and the lawsuits that will follow.

Mayor, you and I both know that Milwaukee CAN do better. Milwaukee MUST do better. Much better. But it takes a committed and courageous leader to drive such a change. I truly hope that you are such a leader.

Wishing Milwaukee a significantly safer 2019.

Kindest regards,

Jonathan Farris
Chief Advocate
Pursuit For Change

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