By Dylan Deprey
The summer of 2016 came and went like a Shakespearean tragedy. What started in hope with the announcement of the Milwaukee Common Council’s multifaceted Public Safety Plan, later evaporated as tensions grew. August was becoming the deadliest month in over two decades, and those who had spent their entire lives living in their communities felt unsafe. The story then reached its climax with an eruption in Sherman Park.
Unlike the traditional Shakespearean tragedy, the city of Milwaukee is attempting to pull itself up by its bootstraps and rewrite a better ending. Community organizations were invited to the first of five community engagement hearings to provide feedback and solutions on public safety issues in the community. The consensus seemed very clear in that more police does not make the communities safer.
The Public Safety Action Plan was a part of the Common Council’s multi-pronged Public Safety Plan. Over the summer the committee met with government organizations including MPD, Milwaukee District Attorney’s office, State of WI Department of Justice as well as others.
The recommendations given during the meeting were considered and used to create the Public Safety Action Plan. As part of the Public Safety Action Plan, the Committee asked for an additional 280 police officers.
According to the Safety Action Plan, MPD has 80 vacant positions and have cut 200 others since 2008. MPD may also take another hit in that 339 current MPD officers will be eligible for retirement within the next 18 months.
“We need first and foremost need to fill those vacancies, there is a reason we as alderman hear about police not responding or responding hours after the fact,” said Ald. Bob Donovan chair of the Public Safety Committee.
The representatives from local community organizations who spoke during the meeting concluded otherwise that hiring more police would not be the correct solution for the complicated equation that is public safety.
Octavia Parker has knocked on plenty of doors engaging the AMANI Neighborhood as a BNCP Community Organizer for the past year. She said that in conversation with the primarily older generation residing in AMANI, they are fearful and wish to “go back to the old Milwaukee.”
“We had beat officers who would walk the beat, and it wasn’t about the baseball cards, it was about building relationships with the neighbors and the children,” Parker said.
In the Public Safety Plan, the first recommendation was to build relationships between the community and the police by adding walking and bicycle police working a beat. These police would address minor offenses including prostitution, drug dealing, vandalism and trespassing.
Ald. Donovan said that the new wave of police could fill the neighborhood beat police officer positions.
R.L McNeely, chairman for the Felmers O. Chaney Advocacy Board, said that beat officers and liaison officers offered in the Public Safety Plan would not solve the fundamental deep seeded distrust issues between the communities and the police.
“The police need to maintain a guardian mentality most of the time and transition to a warrior mentality only when needed,” McNeely said.
He offered that MPD follow in the footsteps of Green Bay, Racine and Madison by implementing community oriented Problem Solving Policing (POP). UW Law professor Herman Goldstein was an early founder of the POP approach. POP strategy is meant to identify specific problems in the community and develop specific response strategies while also building trust and engaging constituents in solving issues throughout the community.
McNeely also noted that community-policing policies were shown to improve police community relations, reduce crime dramatically and also improve police morale.
As the meeting subsided and recommendations were taken, the community is up at the plate. Throughout the month of October the community has the opportunity to give their suggestions to the Public Safety Committee in its preparation for a Final Public Safety Action Plan.
“I find that the culture of the police department has not changed very much in overall this time.
Even when we had good jobs in the community we still had to be vigilant in our encounters with the police,” said Patricia McManus, President and CEO of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin.