Does Milwaukee really need 100 more cops on the street?

By Damon M. Dorsey
The Milwaukee Regional Economic Partnership

Recently, Mayor Barrett announced that he is proposing that the City of Milwaukee fund an additional 100 cops for the streets of Milwaukee. Having more cops is generally a good idea, especially if the primary goal of the Mayor is to control or reduce crime in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, adding more cops has seldom resulted in a reduction in crime. In fact, spending $5 million for 100 additional cops may have the opposite effect; instead of leveraging the public funds to create thousands of private sector jobs (which would ultimately lead to a reduction in crime), the City hires a handful of new Police Officers (who depend on the escalation of crime).

Mayor Barrett is without a doubt committed to creating jobs in Milwaukee. Think Talgo, the Menomonee Valley, the Beerline, the Third Ward and a host of other projects and initiatives. Unfortunately, the joblessness rate among the city’s African American males remains extremely high. In fact, Milwaukee has one of the worst joblessness rates for African American males in the country. More needs to be done to create jobs for these residents; so all the more confusing why the priority would be to spend $5 million dollars of taxpayer money on an already bloated Milwaukee Public Department.

In the hyper-competitive global economy of the 21st century, Milwaukee is in a race from the bottom. And at the bottom are rust-belt cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and a couple of other hyper-segregated cities characterized by significant job less over the past 20 years. No city wants to remain at the bottom of the economic pot so they are doing all they can not to be at the bottom: Detroit is “greening” its urban core, Cleveland is re-investing in its infrastructure and Buffalo is focused on re-tooling its workforce. In addition, all of these cities are reducing the size of their police force – not because they don’t want more police but because they’ve figured out that the savings can be reinvested in making their cities more competitive.

The bottom line is this for Milwaukee: the 100 new cops will cost the City of Milwaukee an extra $5 million per year; money that could be, instead, leveraged to create a number of jobs in Milwaukee – which could, eventually, reduce crime and, walla, the need for more police officers. The new jobs would also lead to a more competitive Milwaukee. Let’s look at the numbers:

• $5 million of City of Milwaukee funds could be leveraged for another $20 million of private capital to yield a total investment of $25 million into Milwaukee.

• This $25 million of investment could then be used to support the creation and expansion of new businesses.

• The businesses could then hire workers and pay them at least as good as what the 100 officers would be compensated. If this is the case, the City, with its private sector partners, would have created an additional 500 full time jobs.

• But let’s say that these new jobs would go to relatively unskilled, minority workers of Milwaukee’s central city, and that the jobs would be part time. In that case, the City’s $5 million, when leveraged, would create 1,000 part time jobs.

• Currently the joblessness rate of Milwaukee’s African American males is a nation-leading 60 percent. And there is no end in sight. So it makes sense that if the jobs were targeted to poor Black men many of them would literally jump at the opportunity to be employed; even if only part time, it sure beats what they have now.

• And the news for the Mayor would only get better: The additional $5 million of City investment is an annual investment and, consequently, could create 1,000 jobs per year. A nice round number. Imagine, every year, more and more central city Black men working. 10,000 MORE BLACK MEN WORKING BY 2024.

• And it only gets better! It is reasonable to assume that those additional jobs will have a positive residual impact in the community where the recipients of these jobs live. In addition to the 1,000 part time jobs or the 500 full time jobs, an additional 100 – 150 jobs per year would be created just from the original job getters spending money in their community. Happy Days are here again!

• After ten years and an additional 5,000 to 10,000 jobs created, and it is more than likely that we will have made a sizeable dent in crime. In fact, we may be able to layoff an additional 100 police officers and reinvest the savings in more job creation.

• Finally, what do you want in 10 years: 5,000 – 10,000 private sector jobs or 100 new Police Officers.

If Milwaukee is going to be the “fresh coast”, as Mayor Barrett calls the city, we must also be “fresh ideas coast”. Unfortunately, despite the Mayor’s best intentions, adding 100 additional police officers is not the kind of fresh idea that will generate new private sector jobs that Milwaukee needs to be a more competitive place to do business.