City officials take a holistic approach to public safety
Concerned Riverwesterners gathered at the Polish Falcon hall on Monday evening to address crime in the neighborhood, spurred by the fact that the area has seen three fatal shootings in the last nine months.
The meeting was organized by the Central Riverwest Neighborhood Block Watch and moderated by Spike Bandy. Bandy, whom many residents refer to as the “Mayor of Riverwest,” expressed his concern about the lack of community reaction to the murders.
“Certainly there was talk among neighbors, but there was no united outcry,” he said, adding that most residents can identify problems, but few actively work toward implementing solutions.
“Quite frankly, in a neighborhood renowned for its activism and concerned citizens, that’s just as intolerable as three murders in less than nine months.”
What’s more, each panelist also detailed the ways in which the community could be a part of those initiatives.
Chief Flynn spoke about reinforcing police presence across the city by increasing the number of officers on foot and bike patrol. He pointed out that there are myriad challenges facing neighborhoods across Milwaukee, but that the feedback from citizens helps the police do their job more effectively. He said that tightly-knit communities are generally better able to fend off crime.
“One of the key variables in dealing with these challenges is the amount of cohesion in a neighborhood,” Flynn said, “I call it ‘social capital’… it’s really
the first brick in the wall with dealing with an anti-crime strategy.”
Alderwoman Coggs spoke about some of the successes that have been made in her district by working with the Licenses Committee to crack down on problem taverns by having applicants meet with neighbors to address issues like noise, loitering and security. All of that feedback then goes into consideration when license application is reviewed. She also utilizes a public safety survey that helps to identify some of the larger problems affecting her district and in turn better address them.
3rd District Alderman Nik Kovac urged residents to be more active with their neighbors and to communicate with their resources at the MPD more often.
He noted that many people are hesitant to contact the police, either because they are afraid or because they think nothing will come of it. But Kovac reiterated that if the police don’t know what’s happening, they can’t respond to it.
“You’re not always going to get feedback, but if you make the call, at least that data exists,” Kovac said, referencing the MPD’s system that collects crime data in each district and is used to help the police in their investigations.
Captain Edith Hudson of the MPD proved to be an invaluable resource for information at the meeting, and even provided the room with a contact guide that listed contact information for various police officers and personnel, which is also available online.
District Attorney John Chisolm and Joe Kubisiak of Safe & Sound spoke briefly about deferred prosecution agreements as a means of intervention with first-time criminals. In certain programs, citizens can act as mentors with young offenders, helping them understand the reality and consequences of their actions so that they won’t re-offend. Safe & Sound also works in “high intensity drug trafficking areas” to get local youth involved in grassroots anti-drug efforts.
Other concerns were the high number of vacant buildings throughout Riverwest, which are typically vandalized and/or used as drug houses. In January, the Vacant Building Registration ordinance took effect, requiring owners of residential and commercial properties to register the property with the DNS if it is left vacant for longer than 30 days. DNS Commissioner Art Dahlberg encouraged residents to report abandoned homes so that they can be secured and properly maintained.
Ald. Coggs also pointed out that the city established a “Buy in your Neighborhood Program,” which uses some of Milwaukee’s federal stimulus funds to help residents purchase foreclosed homes in their area.
There was even an update on the string of garbage fires that has plagued the neighborhood — both Capt. Hudson and Ald. Kovac stated that the suspect was out on bail, but that he was no longer living in Riverwest. The police are working on setting up geographic restrictions for the suspect, but until then are paying him daily visits.
The meeting in Riverwest ended (nearly two-and-a-half hours later) on a high note, with volunteers popping up to distribute Capt. Hudson’s contact guide door-to-door and plenty of new block watches in the works.
It was refreshing to learn about some of the city’s more holistic approaches to public safety, especially as we get closer to the summer months when warmer temperatures seem to see an increase in crime. But it was also a call to action that is true for all Milwaukee residents, regardless of neighborhood — the information and resources are out there, and if Milwaukee wants to see change then Milwaukeeans have to get involved.