Are hundreds of federal shock troops headed to Milwaukee? Probably not—though these days, who the hell knows.
That was the main takeaway from a special meeting of Milwaukee’s Public Safety and Health Committee Monday morning. The one item on the agenda: to hear “communication from various agencies relating to the deployment of irregular federal agents to the City of Milwaukee.”
Most of that communication came from Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. For roughly an hour, Chisholm addressed concerns and confusion surrounding the Trump administration’s sudden announcement that federal troops would be deployed to “Democrat-run cities” like Milwaukee. Last week, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said that “you’ll see something rolled out this week as we start to go in and make sure the communities, whether it’s Chicago, or Portland, or Milwaukee, or someplace across the heartland of the country. We need to make sure that our communities are safe.”
But DA Chisholm explained that—as far as he knew—the plan to bring federal agents to Milwaukee was part of a pre-existing Department of Justice operation called Operation Relentless Pursuit, first announced in 2019 and now rebranded as Operation Legend. Furthermore, he explained that “the agents coming to Milwaukee are investigative agents” focused on “people who are shooting other people,” and would not be involved in protests or crowd control.
“Like you, I had deep concerns about two weeks ago with events unfolding in Portland,” Chisholm said. “During that time, the White House had sort of casually mentioned that they were also sending federal agents to Milwaukee and to Chicago. This rightfully caused a lot of concerns. It caused me particular concern, because I also knew that in the context of a pre-existing relationship with federal authorities—those coming from the Department of Justice—as well as the DNC being prepared for and additional elements of federal government—particularly from the Secret Service coming to Milwaukee—I knew the potential for confusion and deep concern was there. And I shared it, and I continue to share your concerns, because they are totally legitimate concerns.”
Citing Milwaukee’s 95 homicides in 2020 (“I haven’t seen these numbers since the early 1990s,”) Chisholm said the city should not refuse any “good-faith” assistance from the federal government, but should still remain “skeptical and vigilant” about the Trump administration’s plan.
“It’s critical that we not confuse the individuals that are coming to Milwaukee,” Chisholm said. “As far as we know right now, we have to remain vigilant. We have to remain disciplined in making sure that we’re very clear about who is coming and what they’re going to do. But I also don’t want to put us in the position as a city in the midst of a very serious violent crime issue of rejecting good-faith resources that can help us address those problems.”
Chisholm explained that the “enhancement” of local law enforcement with federal agents was “consistent with long-standing relationships that have transcended different administrations since the early 2000s.” In fact, he said, some federal agents under Operation Legend were already stationed in Milwaukee.
So what kind of help do those agents provide? “I’ll use the example of domestic violence,” Chisholm said. “That’s obviously a rising concern, and it plays a substantial role in our elevated homicides in this community. The federal government, for example, has different legal options for individuals that use firearms in the course of a domestic violence incident.”
Agents can also “effectively and efficiently trace evidence,” Chisholm said. “If you recover casings or bullets at a crime scene, they can connect those to other crimes if you have a single individual or group of individuals prolifically engaged in shootings and homicides. Those are the types of resources they can bring to bear, and traditionally have.”
He continued: “What we’re talking about is really just beefing that up a little bit. I don’t know the exact numbers that are coming in, but it’s going to be a modest increase in those resources.”
Last week, U.S. Attorney Matthew Krueger addressed the Trump administration’s surprise announcement. Krueger is expected to release further details on Milwaukee’s place in Operation Legend—such as the exact number of agents headed to the city—later this week.
“The situation in Portland or the response by law enforcement to civil unrest are very different things than what we’re talking about here,” Krueger told WISN 12. “It’s not a matter of federal troops in Milwaukee. It’s not a matter of federal people in camouflage moving in the streets of Milwaukee. Instead, these are trained investigators building on that excellent partnership that Wisconsin has.”
Milwaukee Police Department Chief of Staff Nick DeSiato seconded Chisholm’s clarifications at Monday’s meeting. Last week, MPD released its own statement rejecting a surge of federal troops to deal with “civil unrest.”
“The Milwaukee Police Department is aware of the deployment of federal agents to other cities for the purpose of providing support to those local law enforcement agencies as they address their civil unrest,” the statement read. “The Milwaukee Police Department respectfully declines the deployment of federal agents in Milwaukee for this purpose. We look forward to continuing to work with our federal partners on other joint initiatives such as those addressing violent crime, drug trafficking, internet crimes against children, and human trafficking.”
MPD wasn’t alone in decrying the possibility of federal agents coming to Milwaukee. “I am seriously concerned,” Congresswoman Gwen Moore said last week. “Sadly, I see this as a continuation of this administration’s assault on protesters, which was seen in Lafayette Square, Portland, and other cities across the country. That’s why I don’t trust this administration’s intent or their mission. Local and state leaders didn’t ask for these agents in our community. And I certainly didn’t! I need to know who these agents are, and why they are here. And then I would like for the administration to end whatever plan they have for Milwaukee.”
The ACLU of Wisconsin, meanwhile, said “the President’s plan poses a serious risk of causing further violence and harm. We hope that other Wisconsin residents and elected officials will join us in saying: stay away.”
Monday’s meeting was strictly informational. No votes or actions were taken.