Milwaukee Bucks fans celebrating in the Deer District during the NBA playoffs will see increased security, city and team officials announced Friday.
As the Bucks’ playoffs begin Sunday afternoon at Fiserv Forum, city and team leaders are doubling down on safety. They vow to prevent violence like the one that erupted last year, when a May 13 mass shooting after a playoff game injured 21 people and sent crowds of terrified fans running into the streets.
“We are all working together to ensure that what happens off the court this playoff season is safe, fun and memorable for all involved,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said at a morning news conference outside the arena.
Tip-off for Game 1 of the playoffs is 4:30pm on Sunday. The Bucks will face either the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat.
Community ambassadors will help monitor the crowd
The city’s Office of Violence Prevention has about 60 young people as community ambassadors who will be involved in the Fiserv security system. Ambassadors will monitor for suspicious activity and send information to security officials.
Authorities are also urging fans not to leave anything in their cars, especially valuables and firearms.
Johnson said they hope this will deter “thieves who, unfortunately, break into cars and steal firearms that are then used in criminal activity in other parts of the city.”
“If you’re coming downtown, follow this advice: If you can’t bring it in, don’t bring it in at all,” Johnson said.
Officials will not limit crowd sizes at the Deer District, Bucks president Peter Fagin said. The first round matches will not be shown on big screens in the square. First round games will be shown on the big screen in the beer garden, which has been converted into the Tanduay Tiki Hut for the playoffs.
If necessary, the Milwaukee Police Department will close streets in the area, Assistant Police Chief Paul Formolo said. Formolo declined to share a detailed security plan, but said area commanders will be monitoring the scene closely.
“The Milwaukee Police Department will not tolerate any behavior that is disruptive or threatens the safety of our community,” Formolo said. He added, “I can assure you that the Milwaukee Police Department will be here as long as we are needed.”
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Shooting injured 21 and terrified thousands of fans
Last May, when the Bucks faced the Boston Celtics in an Eastern Conference playoff semifinal game, a crowd of 11,000 fans packed the Deer District. Just as the game ended, around 9:15 p.m., gunfire erupted and hundreds of fans ran.
By night’s end, 21 people had been injured in three separate shootings in downtown Milwaukee. Of those victims, 17 were injured in a single shooting on Water Street.
“Bullets were spraying everywhere,” said Michael Tulsky, a student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering who witnessed the shooting from his apartment.
The cases against four of the five men connected to the shooting have been closed or are close to being closed. On Tuesday, two more suspects pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the shooting.
Pattern of violence around Water Street
During the pandemic, violence and reckless driving plagued the Water Street area. These problems persist. Early Thursday morning, a 33-year-old man was hospitalized after a shooting on Juneau Avenue near Water Street. No arrests have been made in connection with this incident.
Endemic violence has led some community members to question whether downtown is still a safe place to gather.
Last year, Ald. Bob Bauman, who represents much of downtown, said he has heard concerns from condominium associations about the violence on Water Street.
“I told them very frankly, based on the current conditions, I don’t know why the violence of last summer wouldn’t happen again,” Bauman said in an interview last year. “I mean, you have the same dynamic.”
“The police told me last year and I suspect it’s true again – everyone has a gun,” he said. “They are far from weapons.”
In the wake of last year’s mass shooting, Johnson imposed a curfew in the area and promised a full-scale response to the violence.