1981 Milwaukee Police Strike

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The 1981 Milwaukee Police Strike was a police strike in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States.


Three police-involved deaths in Milwaukee in 1981 have been cited as causes for a general increase in racial tension in the city that year.[1] In December, two Milwaukee Police officers – John Machjewski and Charles Mehlberg – were shot and killed by Robert Lee Collins, an African-American man, while investigating a reported robbery at Alfred's House of Bourbon, a tavern.[2][3] Following the deaths, Alderman Roy Nabors publicly stated that the shooting might have been motivated by the suspect's fear of the police.[1] Nabors later said his comments had been taken out of context.[1]


At approximately 8:00 p.m. on December 23, 1981, officers of the 1700-man Milwaukee Police abandoned their posts, citing Nabors' comments as evidence of the disregard they claimed city officials showed for the police.[3] Mayor Henry Maier declared a state of emergency and, in response to a demand from the president of the Milwaukee Professional Police Association that the Milwaukee Common Council hear a list of police grievances before officers would return to work, convened an extraordinary session of the council.[3] Maier also issued a request to bars and taverns in the city to voluntarily agree to close early for the duration of the strike.[4]

The first hours of the strike were met with confusion, with some police districts having a single police supervisor as the entire law enforcement presence.[5] In one case, two officers on patrol didn't learn a strike had been called until an hour after it began.[5] During the strike, law enforcement in Milwaukee was provided by a combination of police supervisors who had not joined the walk-out and 200 specially-assigned deputies of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.[3] Nonetheless, media reported that at least two police stations appeared to have shut-down with a hand-written sign on the locked doors of the district 7 station reading "we are not conducting any business at this time."[5]

Police returned to work late on December 24, 1981 – approximately 16 hours after the strike began – after the Milwaukee Common Council agreed to publicly denounce Nabors, as well as to increase police funding.[6]

As of 2009, Robert Collins was incarcerated at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Sestanovich, Clare. "A Short History of Police Protest". The Marshall Project. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  2. ^ "The Milwaukee police union went on strike Wednesday night..." United Press International. December 23, 1981. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d "Milwaukee Police Strike After 2 Officers are Slain". The New York Times. Associated Press. December 23, 2017. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  4. ^ "A few city taverns heed call, close early". Milwaukee Journal. December 24, 1981. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "Surrealistic setting left police stations peaceful and quiet". Milwaukee Journal. December 24, 1981.
  6. ^ Williams, Winston (December 24, 1981). "Police in Milwaukee Return to Beats After Illegal Strike". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
  7. ^ "Opinion and Order 08-cv-747-bbc" (PDF). United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
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