Militarized police raids seek Milwaukee drug traffickers

    An image of officers outside of a home shared on social media by residents. (Shared through Community Task Force on Facebook)
    An image of officers outside of a home shared on social media by residents. (Shared through Community Task Force on Facebook)

    Authorities have revealed details regarding the various tactical police raids which occurred the morning of Feb. 25 in Milwaukee. Images of police units clad in camouflage, and commandeering armored vehicles, circulated on social media as residents wondered what their targets were.

    In a press conference this morning, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin Matthew Krueger explained that the operation was aimed at a drug trafficking organization, identified as the Buffum Meinecke Boys. “They operated in and around the Harambee neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northeast side,” said Krueger. “Fifteen of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute significant quantities of narcotics.”

    US Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin Matthew Krueger (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
    US Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin Matthew Krueger (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

    The operation involved over 20 agencies including the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD), two Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) gang task forces, FBI field offices in Chicago and Minneapolis, the sheriff’s offices (of Milwaukee, Lincoln, Racine, Dane and Marathon counties), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the West Allis Police Department, Wausau Police Department, Mt. Pleasant Police Department, HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) and others.

    Large quantities of drugs were recovered including 150 grams worth of a substance which authorities say was mixed with fentanyl. It’s a dark coincidence that as officers executed their searches, Milwaukee’s Medical Examiner’s Office reported six overdoses in five hours.

    Over 280 grams of crack cocaine, 50 kilograms of cannabis, over 900 grams of heroin, 53 firearms, and $300,000 in US currency were also seized. In the raids, police arrested 17 of the 24 people charged in Milwaukee with their alleged roles in the organization. Special Agent In Charge of Milwaukee’s FBI office Robert Hughes said half of those arrested were on probation or parole.

    Krueger stated that the raids were not part of Operation Relentless Pursuit, a federal effort against violent crime in seven U.S. cities, Milwaukee being one of them. “The pieces of Relentless Pursuit are still being put together,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “We’ll provide more information about Operation Relentless Pursuit in the future.” Captain Chad Evenson of the West Allis Police Department also told Wisconsin Examiner the day of the raids, “while we are familiar with Operation Relentless Pursuit, our agency is not actively participating at this time.”

    Rather, the Tuesday morning raids are associated with Project Safe Neighborhoods. Krueger described it as a collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement to carry out investigations of violent crimes and offenders on a neighborhood-level basis. “Not only through enforcement but also through prevention,” he noted.

    Although Krueger acknowledged that, “significant progress has been made,” in the city, he said that violent crime “remains too high.”

    “That is why my office, and the Justice Department as a whole including the FBI, and the DEA, and the ATF have made it a top priority to implement Project Safe Neighborhoods.” He says the goal of the project is to affirm “an all of the above approach,” to combating violent crime. “This includes prevention, and community building,” said Krueger. “Make no mistake, Milwaukee can only be a safe, prosperous city if we also have vigorous law enforcement.”

    MPD Chief Alfanso Morales said that MPD officers of District 5 were deeply involved in the operation. He reminded attendees at the press conference that, “there’s some good things happening in Milwaukee.” In Morales’ eyes, the partnership happening through Project Safe Neighborhoods is one of those positive points. “Milwaukee is getting national recognition on the partnerships on how we work together — local, state, and federal, to focus on the problems,” said Morales. “With 10% of the people that account for the majority of the crime, violent crime, in the city of Milwaukee.”

    Although officials say the raids were focused on the north-east side, social media posts also drew attention to officers in the Bayview neighborhood as well. Others posted pictures of raids occurring in different locations in the northside, including 49th and Burleigh. Militarized officers were also photographed entering Levels, a night-club on 6th and North Avenue. Residents expressed shock at the sight of tactical units and armored vehicles operating in their neighborhoods.

    Militarized police units enter Levels on North Avenue. (Photo shared through Community Task Force)
    Militarized police units enter Levels on North Avenue. (Photo shared through Community Task Force)

    “We certainly care deeply about the safety, and the perception of safety, and that’s why we put these resources forward. Because we’re dedicated to making the neighborhoods safe,” said Krueger. “I would note that operations that occurred yesterday are dangerous in nature.” The U.S. attorney invoked the names of several MPD officers who’ve lost their lives in duty in recent years, including during tactical operations. “Law enforcement takes great care to ensure the safety of its officers, but also the other residents of the neighborhood. To try to avoid situations where there would be gunfire, for example, as search warrants and arrest warrants are executed.”

    Although it’s unclear if Milwaukee will continue similar operations moving forward toward the Democratic National Convention, Morales feels prepared. “We’re going to work together, we are working together,” said Morales. “We’ve been meeting the challenges that we have every month in preparation. Each month we see where we’re at, and we’re ahead of the game.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.