By LaKeshia Myers
It is no secret, nearly fifty percent of the city’s budget is spent on public safety. This is due in part to police pensions, vast amounts of overtime pay, and legal settlements. In May 2019, Gretchen Schuldt published an article in Urban Milwaukee online periodical which stated that the city had borrowed millions in the last decade to settle cases with community members for police misconduct. Schuldt stated, “The City of Milwaukee, just five months into the year, already is in the borrowing mode to pay off court settlements related to police conduct, a financing strategy that increases costs for taxpayer.” A chart in the article denotes that roughly thirty-nine million dollars has been shelled out over the past decade in police settlements.
Thirty-nine million dollars that could have been used to support community improvement projects; thirty-nine million dollars that could have been used to replace lead laterals in the oldest parts of the city; thirty-nine million lessons that went unlearned for police officers who decided to engage in malfeasance and misconduct. Thirty-nine million chances to correct the course—thirty-nine million missed opportunities.
While states and municipalities often use bonding to pay for large scale capital projects like roads, bridges, and schools, bonds are loans that must be repaid. Borrowing for these types of projects allows governments to spread the costs over decades to ensure that future beneficiaries of the projects share in the costs. Our priority over the past decade is clear, Milwaukee leadership has prioritized settling police misconduct cases. Therefore, children born in Milwaukee today, will continue to pay the debts of those aggrieved by those who are sworn to protect and serve. What a novel concept.
Actions demand consequences and I for one am tired of the public’s hard-earned money being used to support poor police behavior. This is an unnecessary line item because if police officers were forced to pay their own settlements, I am certain we would see a significant decrease in misconduct claims. Or, perhaps the police union should bear the burden of paying for their member’s callous behavior. Either way, I believe this would be a good way to weed out those that choose to be “bad actors” and tarnish the reputation of the badge.
Continuing down this path of overspending on settlements is detrimental to the city. It does nothing to improve community and police relations, it serves as a continual financial drain on already scare public resources, and it proves to rogue officers that their behavior is indeed acceptable. And who gets left holding the bag? Taxpayers like you and me. In order for Milwaukee to thrive, we need change. We must hold those who have the ability to influence policies like this to look out for the best interest of the city; because this is not in the best interest of the people.