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During Milwaukee Bucks playoff run, new ‘community ambassadors’ hope to keep fans safe

Shootings during and after playoffs games have left several injured in recent years

Paul Formolo wears a Bucks hat as he speaks at a podium.
Milwaukee Police Department Assistant Chief Paul Formolo speaks Friday, April 14, 2023, outside of the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The Milwaukee Bucks and city leaders are hopeful a new “community ambassadors” program will help keep the community safe during the team’s upcoming playoffs run and allay public concerns after three shootings near the Fiserv Forum left 21 people injured during the postseason last year.

Bars and restaurants near and inside the popular Deer District have been a hotbed of fandom during postseason games, as thousands flock there to watch games. But high profile shootings during and after playoff games in recent years have garnered national attention and left fans, residents and business owners concerned about safety.

In response, city leaders announced new initiatives Friday which they say will help quell violence. In addition to around 60 young people acting as community ambassadors that will be near the stadium before and after games, officials urged people coming to the area to keep their firearms at home.

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“Priority No. 1 is safety and security,” Bucks and Fiserv Forum President Peter Feigin said during a press conference Friday.

The ambassadors will look out for suspicious activity in the area and will be in communication with Fiserv Forum security, who are in direct communication with the Milwaukee Police Department. They’ll also wear special jackets and will help maneuver fans around the area, as several streets will be closed.

Cavalier Johnson wears a Bucks shirt while speaking at a podium.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks Friday, April 14, 2023, outside of the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

“They will act as the eyes and the ears for the playoff games,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.

Johnson also urged the community to speak up if they see something, a common theme he’s shared as the city attempts to lower its rate of gun violence. Milwaukee broke its homicide record for the third year in a row in 2022.

“Everyone’s got to be involved with making Milwaukee safer,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Police Department Assistant Chief Paul Formolo said the department’s presence during the playoff games will be “very noticeable.” Even so, he declined to share the details of the department’s security plan when asked about it on Friday.

“Obviously, I can’t get into the specific details of our safety and security plan, but I can assure you that the Milwaukee Police Department will be here as long as we’re needed,” he said.

Lights atop a tall pole are set up next to a sidewalk.
Lights are positioned near the Deer District in preparation for the Milwaukee Bucks’ appearance in the NBA playoffs Friday, April 14, 2023, outside of the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Bucks and city officials are also asking fans attending the game to leave valuable items at home before they come to the game in an effort to help stop thieves stealing from vehicles.

Non-fatal shootings have increased by 8 percent from last year to this year in the city, according to data from the Milwaukee Police Department.

Past shootings a concerning trend

Last year, the Bucks canceled a watch party outside the stadium following three separate shootings that left 21 injured after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals series game against the Boston Celtics. City leaders imposed a curfew near the stadium on the nights following the shooting.

In 2021, hours after the Milwaukee Bucks secured their first NBA championship in 50 years, a shooting near the stadium left three people wounded.That night, a crowd of around 65,000 people gathered downtown to watch the game and many people were still near the stadium when the shooting occurred.

A blue sky is seen behind the curved roof of the Fiserv Forum. Images of 5 players next to the phrase
The Fiserv Forum is decorated in images of players in preparation for the NBA playoffs Friday, April 14, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention director Ashanti Hamilton urged fans to come back to the area during this year’s playoff run.

“A lot of inventory went into what went wrong and what can be done better,” Hamilton said.

“A whole lot of attention is being paid to keeping a sense of safety in the downtown area. So please come back,” he added.

Between 3,000 and 6,000 fans are expected to flock to the Deer District during the first round of playoff games, according to Bucks president Feigin. That number will likely increase as the playoffs go on.

The ambassador program, which will include youth above the age of 17, was created through the Office of Violence Prevention. The Bucks will be paying their wages for the work.

“We really used our community-based partners to be able to do the outreach for the youth across the city who would be perfect ambassadors for being able to do this type of work downtown,” Hamilton said.

A police car near Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced a curfew after three separate shootings left 21 injured in Milwaukee on May 13, 2022. Johnson said during a press conference the day after the shootings that there would be additional law enforcement in the area, including police from other agencies.  Deneen Smith/WPR

Sara Potts will be a supervisor for the community ambassadors, and will be in charge of around 10 youth. She said they’ll meet up hours before the game and will be assigned different zones in the area.

“Our job as young ambassadors is to direct the individuals, direct them if they have any questions and to keep our eyes open for anything, cause we don’t want anything bad to happen,” Potts said.

The Milwaukee Bucks had the best regular season record in the NBA this season. They’re hoping for another long playoff run, as some national media outlets have picked them to win their second championship in three years. The first game of the Bucks’ playoffs run will be 4 p.m. Sunday at Fiserv Forum.

Potts said she believes the updated security measures will be enough to keep the community safe this year. She also encouraged fans to come back to the area.

“It’ll be exciting,” Potts said. “Bucks in six.”