MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee police union went on strike Wednesday night in angry response to the shooting deaths of two officers who were trying to apprehend a robbery suspect earlier in the day.
The surprise walkout by about 2,200 police officers came after Roy Nabors, a black alderman, was quoted in a taped radio interview as saying the black suspect may have fired on police because he was afraid they would kill him.
Several high ranking officials, including Mayor Henry Maier, met at the City Hall to try to end the illegal strike which apparently left only tactical squad officers on the streets.
Officers John Machajewski, 24, and Charles Mehlberg, 25, were both shot in the head after they cornered the suspect in an alley early Wednesday. Machajewski died two hours later and Mehlberg died Wednesday afternoon.
While criticizing the alderman for his remarks, Police Chief Harold Breier said he couldn't condone the walkout.
'Hell no. I think they're destroying their credibility by doing what they're doing. It seems to me that its' not called for at all,' said the chief, who himself has been under fire both from the union and others.
There have been requests the chief, now 70, should retire.
Police Association President Robert Kliesmet called the walkout and then said he would ask the officers to stay out until the Common Council considered a list of demands that would provide safer working conditions.
Nabor's comments, Kliesmet said, 'were the straw that broke the camel's back,'referring to several incidents in recent months in which police have been accused of brutality and unnecessary force.
Police arrested Robert Lee Collins, 19, who has a lengthy police record.
Police Association President Robert Kliesmet ordered the walkout and then demanded city officials meet with police to clarify the rights of officers. Police have come under fire in recent months following incidents in which they have been accused of brutality and unnecessary force.
'The officers just don't know where to go anymore,' said a spokesman for the police association. 'This is causing so much confusion to our men on the street, they don't know what proper action to take any more.'
The slain policemen were the first officers to die in the line of duty since 1977.
Bail for Collins was set at $350,000 and first-degree murder and armed robbery charges were expected to be filed Thursday.
Nabor's was quoted in a radio interview as saying, 'The person could have suspected that the police were simply going to kill him, and because of that, he might have acted out of fear rather than out of any kind of sensible surrender to the police. I think anytime that a polie officer approaches a person in the black community there is that state of panic.'
Kliesmet said Nabor's statement tried to justify the slaying of a police officer.
'I spoke to Alderman Nabors and he indicated he was taken out of context,' Kliesmet said. 'Our members are so incensed they are willing to take a job action.'
The union also said it was angered that District Attorney E. Michael McCann had not yet filed charges in the death of Ernest Lacy, a young black man who died in police custody.
After a lengthy inquest in Lacy's death this fall, a coroner's jury said homicide by reckless conduct charges should be filed against three officers in Lacy's death in July.
But arrest warrants issued by the coroner's jury were ruled invalid and new charges have yet to be filed, although McCann said he will do so next month.
'We are demanding in the future Mr. McCann regard the issue of warrants at the proper time,' the union spokesman said.
The dead officers had each been with the force since 1978.
The shootout occurred just after midnight Tuesday as the officers chased a suspect down an alley. Witnesses said they heard several shots fired. Police said the man took Mehlberg's gun and ran into a home where his sister lived.
Collins surrendered about 45 minutes later after he house had been surrounded and police made several appeals for him to walk out. Police said Collins had been under observation earlier this month after a suicide attempt.
Just before midnight, police said, Collins robbed customers and the bartender at Alfred's House of Bourbon at least $200.