Milwaukee Police Want Thousands of Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas, Smoke Grenades for Policing DNC
Protesters calling on Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales to be fired earlier this month march toward City Hall before a Fire and Police Commission meeting. Morales was not fired, but the commission gave him a list of 11 directives to follow, or else he will face discipline or firing. (Photo by Samer Ghani)

Items requested despite city officials ordering police to not use rubber bullets and as Trump plans to deploy uninvited federal forces.

The Milwaukee Police Department is trying to buy over 6,500 rounds of rubber bullets, tear gas, smoke grenades, flares, and flashbangs, for crowd control during next month’s scaled-down Democratic National Convention, according to a bid request submitted to the city’s Purchasing Division.

The request is being made despite Mayor Tom Barrett and members of the Common Council telling the department to stop using rubber bullets, and the city’s Fire and Police Commission last week directing the department to stop using all chemical weapons.

Such munitions, called “less-lethal” despite their ability to severely injure, blind, and even kill, have been used by law enforcement throughout the country during protests against racism and police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

In MPD’s bid sheet titled “DNC Munitions,” the department requests almost 3,200 potentially lethal sponge rounds — including some that “combine blunt trauma with the effects of an irritant powder” on impact — 750 canisters that release 18 rubber balls each, and hundreds of smoke grenades and tear gas canisters.

The bid sheet also includes a request for 560 canisters that can release a cloud of tear gas for up to 40 seconds each, according to the manufacturer, Defense Technology.

While the crowds will certainly be smaller for the scaled-back DNC, the potential for chaos appears to be high. President Donald Trump is deploying militarized federal agents to Milwaukee in the coming weeks around the same time as the DNC, a move Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called “fascist.”

MPD did not respond to a question asking why it is requesting tear gas and rubber bullets despite Barrett, council members, and the FPC telling the department to not use them. Barrett’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Previous bid requests — since retracted by MPD after blowback — included provisions such as a battering-ram that can be attached to a vehicle, driven through a wall, and used to shoot out tear gas. In a statement to WDJT, MPD said that order was one of several put together in February and March before the pandemic hit and protests began.

Another bid submitted at that time, for 12,000 beef jerky sticks, has been approved for nearly $20,000.

The equipment and snack purchases are being made with a $50 million federal grant to provide security for the scaled-down DNC, according to Urban Milwaukee.

The DNC was originally supposed to take place the week of July 13 before officials moved it to the week of August 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last month, the DNC announced delegates would not be traveling to Milwaukee because of the ongoing health concerns, and the convention was moved from the Bucks’ Fiserv Forum to the nearby — and smaller — Wisconsin Center, while being reorganized into a mostly virtual event.

While the DNC was initially thought to have the opportunity to attract 50,000 people, it will almost certainly not be as big a boon to Milwaukee as originally assumed.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is still expected to travel to the city to accept the Democratic presidential nomination, but it is rumored that he will be the only major speaker to give a speech in-person at the event.

Bidding on the munition order is open through July 30. The cost is not yet known.