Report: Milwaukee police used their guns less often last year

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There were 654 total use of force incidents on the part of Milwaukee police last year, the lowest number since 2013. (Photo: Vincent Desjardins/Flickr)

Police in Milwaukee used their service weapons against residents seven times in 2016, the lowest number in eight years, according to a report compiled last month.

But despite that low figure, the year-to-year trend has been inconsistent, according to the study, which analyzed use-of-force incidents by the Milwaukee Police Department last year.

From 2009 to 2016, MPD officers used their guns against civilians an average of 11.4 times per year. The most came in 2011, when there were 15 such incidents.

In six of the seven incidents last year, officers used their firearms on armed individuals. Five of them had guns and one had a knife. Five of the seven subjects shot at were struck by gunfire, and three of them died.

One of those killed was 23-year-old Sylville Smith, who was gunned down by former officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown on Aug. 13. The fatal shooting sparked two days of riots in Milwaukee. Heaggan-Brown was fired and subsequently charged with homicide.

In addition to statistics on use-of-force against humans, the report outlines the number of times MPD officers have used their firearms on dogs in recent years. In 2009, MPD officers fired on 39 dogs. Last year, they shot at 19. Of those, 17 dogs were hit and 12 died.

Despite the staggered decline of gun-related incidents, the total number of use-of-force incidents in Milwaukee has been on a steady decline in recent years. There were 654 reported use-of-force incidents last year — a figure that’s been on the downtrend year over year since 2013, when there were 895 reported use-of-force incidents.

Supervisors are required to complete a use-of-force report whenever MPD officers shoot their gun, use their baton, or use a chemical agent or stun gun. They also must report any incidents where a department canine bites a person, when officers strike citizens, or whenever a person is injured or claims injury.

The most common use-of-force incident was “bodily force only” — including “focused strikes, diffused strikes, or decentralizations to the ground.” Of the 654 use-of-force incidents documented last year, 382 of them, or 58.4 percent, involved bodily force only.

More than a quarter of MPD officers (505 of 1,923) were involved in a use-of-force incident in 2016. Most of them — 58 percent — were involved in only one incident. About 7 percent of the 505 officers were involved in five or more use-of-force incidents.