Milwaukee officials announced Monday a plan to spend nearly half a million dollars to replace the Police Department’s service weapon next year by using asset forfeiture funds.
The announcement comes about a month and half after the union representing rank-and-file officers sued the city, demanding it replace department-issued firearms that have been the subject of three unexplained, accidental discharges since 2020, which injured two officers.
“The safety of our officers and the safety of the citizens we serve are our association’s top priority,” said Andrew Wagner, president of the Milwaukee Police Association. “Mayor (Cavalier) Johnson and Police Chief (Jeffrey) Norman and other city leaders who helped work on this plan to get new firearms have also shown that they share that same concern for our citizens and officers and we are grateful for them.”
Wagner was joined by Johnson and Norman for the announcement at City Hall on Monday. Norman said the department plans to spend about $458,000 to replace the existing Sig Sauer P320 firearms with the Glock 45.
The process will begin in early 2023 and the transition is expected to last five to six months, Norman said.
Most of the cost will be paid for by the department’s asset forfeiture fund – money that police acquired by seizing property that was involved in a crime and selling it. Such funds are typically spent on officer training and community engagement events, Norman said.
Johnson said legislation to make the purchase happen will be introduced to the Common Council this week. Once approved, Wagner said the union will drop its lawsuit against the city.
“There’s no higher priority than the safety of the people who protect our city,” Johnson said. “The police officers who serve our city have enough on their plate to worry about.”
In its lawsuit, the union listed three occasions in which an officer’s department-issued firearm discharged randomly – in July 2020, January 2021 and September of this year, injuring two officers. The discharges happened during a physical struggle with a suspect; as an officer exited his squad car with his hands full with paperwork; and as officers searched a vehicle following a crash.
Wagner said the officer injured in September still has a bullet lodged in his knee and is facing at least a yearlong recovery.
In 2018, then-Chief Alfonso Morales decided to transition to the P320 as its new service weapon after the warranty on the previous one expired, according to the Police Department.
Since that same year, at least 22 lawsuits have been filed in federal court against Sig Sauer by individual law enforcement officers and gun enthusiasts alleging the P320 fired without anyone pulling the trigger and injured the defendants. Eighteen of the suits have been filed since 2020.
The initial cost estimate for replacing the P320 with a new weapon initially came in at between $600,000 and $800,000, according to Ald. Michael Murphy’s office. Jim Bohl, Johnson’s chief of staff, said the city will recoup some money by selling off the P320s to the supplier who provided them, but he did not say how much the city expects to receive.
“This is where we see the most productive resolution to this challenge,” Norman said.
The Police Department began investigating the safety of the P320 after the first incident in 2020 and determined the model was missing a certain part and was vulnerable to accidental discharges.
A captain and sergeant later discussed the issue with representatives of Sig Sauer, who were unwilling to say the P320 would not discharge if it was dropped, slammed or jostled, the lawsuit said. They also told Milwaukee police there was an additional risk of the gun not firing even if the trigger was pulled in certain circumstances.
Why it took two years to find a resolution is not something city officials have detailed publicly. When asked about it Monday, Norman said, “the big thing is making sure all parties involved will be able to agree” on the best actions to take.
During a city committee meeting in September, Wagner said city officials had tried to identify options to replace the weapons with the City Attorney’s Office, led by Tearman Spencer.
Spencer did not respond to that remark during the meeting and has not commented publicly on the issue. He did not appear at Monday’s press conference.
At that same meeting, Wagner said officers have “lost all trust” in the P320. He said officers have told him they refuse to bring the gun within their own homes and are willing to “go against policy” by not chambering a round in the gun while on duty out of fear the weapon will hurt someone.
On its website, Sig Sauer maintains that the P320 “meets and exceeds all U.S. safety standards.”