Earlier this week, Alderman Khalif Rainey issued a press release “urging the Fire and Police Commission to disallow canines as a use of force.” At a meeting of the Public Safety and Health Committee Thursday morning, Rainey and other alders further pressed—and sometimes clashed with—Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Michael Brunson on the matter.

Brunson immediately voiced his displeasure with Rainey’s press release, which, among other things, drew parallels between the use of canines by modern police to the use of canines by Nazi Germany and Civil Rights-era police. “That was pretty disturbing to me that someone would make that correlation,” Brunson said.

Brunson characterized MPD’s use of force by canines as “very, very rare events.” He said that MPD’s standard operating procedure (SOP) surrounding the use of force by canines is “very specific,” and that canines “absolutely cannot be used in a protest-type situation.” What types of cases call for a canine use of force? “It has to be a felony crime, first of all,” Brunson said. “Second of all, if it’s a misdemeanor, it has to involve a weapon.”

Beyond canine deployments as a use of force, Brunson said that there have been 420 total deployments in 2020 so far. In 2019, he said, there were 999. There was one citizen bitten each year.

“They are very, very infrequently involved in any type of use-of-force situation,” Brunson said. “We don’t use them proactively to use force on anyone. And so, the insinuation here that was made was, in my opinion, inflammatory and specious on top of that. I would appreciate if facts are obtained before a press release goes out.”

“We are entitled to have our opinions and facts here,” replied committee chair Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic. “Members can put out their own releases, and so can your department, sir.”

Ald. Rainey was similarly unswayed. He said that though the use of force by canines may be rare, MPD should take a “moral stand” on the subject.

“You say that it’s not being utilized at a great frequency,” Rainey said. “Let’s do this then—let’s take a moral stand as a department and say we don’t want to do this no more, this will not be a way that we will utilize our canines to attack our residents. I think that that’s a good moral standard, even if it’s not about the data. For me, it just says in a moment where people all around the country are calling for a change in the practices by the police department…Your defiance to me is kind of bizarre.”

Rainey’s initial press relation said that canines “are used disproportionally on people of color, and it is necessary for us to take action to prevent anyone from being the victim of vicious canine attacks going forward.” The alderman asked Brunson if any of MPD’s current canine handlers were African American. The chief replied that while he didn’t have specific numbers, at least one officer was African American, and that he was “one of the most veteran handlers.” Brunson said there were “less than fifteen” total canine handlers in MPD.

The council file was adopted by a vote of 3-2, with alders Rainey, Dimitrijevic, and Chantia Lewis voting in favor, and alders Scott Spiker and Mark Borkowski abstaining. The resolution simply asks the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) to consider the matter themselves.

“This is a resolution that we are asking for the FPC to take a look at and take up in their business,” Rainey explained. “We are not changing any statutes today. If the FPC says we are not in support of this, then so be it. The resolution before us today simply asks the FPC to take a look at it. It’s a very inhumane practice, it’s a very barbaric practice, it’s something that needs to be discontinued not just here in Milwaukee, but across the nation.”

Read Rainey’s initial press release below.

Disallowing canines as use of force to go before PS & H Committee

The Public Health and Safety Committee on Thursday (October 22) will take up legislation that would urge the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to disallow the use of canines by Milwaukee Police as a use of force.

Council file #200823 – sponsored by Alderman Khalif J. Rainey – would address the concerns of using canines in use of force situations in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of the Milwaukee Police Department. Non-white suspects constitute the largest number of injuries resulting from dog-bites, and the history of canines being used against people of color gives ample reasoning to amend the MPD’s SOP.

“This legislation would change a policy that is both demeaning and dangerous to the citizens of Milwaukee,” Alderman Rainey said. “It has long been true that canines are used disproportionally on people of color, and it is necessary for us to take action to prevent anyone from being the victim of vicious canine attacks going forward.”

There were 200,000 attack canines used by Nazi Germany on the battlefield and in their camps, and they were used to brutally attack and maim any enemies of the Nazi party, and untold numbers of Jews were viciously killed at the hands of these attack dogs. Nazis took pleasure in letting the dogs do their work in such a vicious manner that is almost too gruesome to even contemplate.

Police dogs were unleashed on Black protesters during the Civil Rights Era, and most notably at the Selma March. Protesters were bitten and lunged upon by these dogs as police used the canines to enforce the law and contain the protesters. Hardly any protection was provided by the police during these marches and many protesters were left at the mercy of dogs that had been trained to kill.

“These practices from decades ago are still sadly in place today, and the use of police dogs has a much darker history than is typically realized by people who have only seen the dogs as a wagging tail and friendly face,” Alderman Rainey said.

Cosponsors of the file are Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton and Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs.

About The Author

Avatar photo
Co-Founder and Editor

Matt Wild weighs between 140 and 145 pounds. He lives on Milwaukee's east side.