By Dave Fidlin

Correspondent

The Whitewater Police Department is linking arms with many of its counterparts across Walworth County for an initiative aimed at addressing large, unruly crowds of people.

Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher and Captain Dan Meyer came before the Common Council on July 18 and discussed the so-called multi-jurisdictional crowd control unit. Participants will include local law enforcement agencies across the county, as well as the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department.

Council members approved an agreement formalizing participation in the unit. Whitewater Police will assign three members to the unit, based on the plan floated at last week’s council meeting.

Terms of the agreement state the cost, per member, is $150, meaning the city will contribute $450 annually.

Crowd control is an issue that remains fresh in the minds of Whitewater residents, municipal officials and local law enforcement.

Fifteen months ago, a number of ancillary parties occurred in reaction to Spring Splash, a private event geared toward college students. Throughout the day of the event, complaints of disorderly conduct, loitering and vandalism funneled into the Whitewater Police Department.

“This unit is designed to be a law enforcement mutual aid crowd control system that can operate throughout Walworth County,” Otterbacher said.

She added, “This unit can be deployed to provide a team of highly trained and professional crowd-control members to tactically manage large unruly crowds and to de-escalate riotous situations.”

Although the incidents taking place the day of Spring Splash might have benefited from the unit’s services, Otterbacher said the idea for its creation actually stemmed from last year’s far greater events in Milwaukee and elsewhere.

Several businesses in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood were destroyed or severely damaged last August during two days of civil unrest that required a large deployment of police resources.

The unrest began after a Milwaukee Police officer shot and killed a man in mid-August.

Otterbacher said law enforcement agencies across the county have already taken steps in response to last year’s incidents in Milwaukee and elsewhere.

“Some additional equipment (for the multi-jurisdictional crowd control unit) will be needed, but the majority of needed tactical equipment was purchased in 2016 when several riotous situations began to surface in Milwaukee and other communities throughout the country,” Otterbacher said.

Sworn officers participating in the crowd control unit will have standards beyond their daily calls to duty, as noted in the memorandum of understanding presented at the council meeting.

Speaking to the document, Otterbacher said, “Unit members will participate in regular trainings and will be expected to maintain performance and fitness standards.”

The crowd control unit’s initial training session is expected to begin in September, Otterbacher said, and bi-annual gatherings among all members will take place, beginning next year.

The memorandum of understanding also lays out the framework for the unit’s intended purpose.

The document is designed to spell out the importance of persons exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech, but notes the unit’s resources could be deployed if and when the rights of other persons are violated.

 

 
 

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