By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee Police Department met with BID and NID leaders on Monday, Nov. 23 to discuss the benefits of accepting a federal police grant. The grant would allow for the additional hire of 30 police officers for the next three years.
The Common Council was planning to take the remarks into consideration when deciding whether or not to accept the grant during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 24. The grant is worth $9.7 million.
According to the Journal Sentinel, during Tuesday’s meeting, the Common Council voted unanimously to hold the debate surrounding the grant until the next cycle. This will allow the Common Council at least another month to discuss the impact of accepting or denying this grant.
During Monday’s meeting, Barrett spoke with Police Chief Michael Brunson. Each of them explained why they want the Common Council to accept the grant and what it will be used for.
This year has seen a dramatic increase in violent crime, Barrett said. The homicide rate has increased as have shootings and reckless driving, he said.
“The question is ‘how do we deal with these issues?’” Barrett said. “I think the reason this has become more contentious is because of the unhappiness with policing by many people in our community [and] the belief that they are not relating to the real issues that we face as a community.”
While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Barrett learned about the COPS Program (Community Orientated Policing Services). Under the U.S. Department of Justice, cities in need of additional help with their police departments would receive grants. Milwaukee was one of the beneficiaries during the 1990s.
This year’s the COPS program added a new grant that would be for cities having issues with violent crime.
“Unfortunately, we fit within that definition,” Barrett said, so the police department filled out the grant.
Unlike in previous years, there is no match required, Barrett said. That means, the City of Milwaukee would not be required to use its local revenue to pay for the additional hires, rather the federal grant would pay them.
Barrett explained that the plan is to have a new class of officers comprised of the current individuals in the city’s police aide program.
If an individual is hired through the grant, the city would be required to retain them for an additional 12 months following the grant’s initial three years.
Taking into consideration, the violent crime rate, the fiscal issues and the projection of the number of police officers retiring over the next few years (about 371), Barrett chose to show his support for the grant.
“It would be a mistake if we said no to this grant,” he said.
Brunson spoke on some of the challenges the police department faced this year and what challenges await it in 2021. The Milwaukee Police Department is anticipating cutting 120 personnel and without the grant, it loses out on hiring 30 additional officers, Brunson said.
This year, there has been a 3% increase in the number of calls to service of compared to this same time last year, he said. With fewer officers, those wait times will increase.
“We want to engage with the community,” Brunson said. “We want officers to be able to initiate and participate in community orientated policing. If you have less police personnel that’s going to make even that a challenge because our primary responsibility as a law enforcement agency is to address the violent crime that we see.”
Less personnel mean that 911 calls and address violent crime will be the priorities, and there will be less time for community orientated policing endeavors, he said.
So far, there have been 174 homicide crimes this year compared to 89 last year, which equates to a 96% increase, Brunson said. There have been 685 non-fatal shootings this year compared to 388 in 2019. Additionally, there has been a 200% increase in road-rage shootings.
Citizens are on edge and things are escalating quickly, he said.
“Those are some of the challenges that I’m hoping are an anomaly as it relates to 2020,” Brunson said, adding that if this volume of violent crime and reckless driving continues, it’s going to be a huge challenge for the agency especially with less personnel.
Behind every call there is a citizen that needs help, he said, and having additional officers will help the department address the violent crime issue plaguing the city.
Brunson added that the agency is working with the Fire and Police Commission to make the necessary changes to its standard operating procedures regarding use of force to help officers police in a more just manner.