Does Milwaukee Need More Police?
Mayoral candidate Bob Donovan thinks so. How does this city compare to others?
In October alderman and mayoral candidate Bob Donovan held an entertainning press conference where he complained that Milwaukee does not have enough police, and that the department has “too many chiefs” and “not enough Indians.”
Minus the cornball rhetoric, there was nothing new about this contention. Donovan complained about a dearth of police in press releases issued in July, in June and in April of this year, not to mention press releases last year with the same message in November, in August, in June and in April.
And that’s just a selective list. Donovan’s mantra is not enough police, not enough police. It may be the first thing he says on getting out of bed. It is nearly the only issue in his quixotic run for mayor.
His most recent press conference went statistical on us, concluding Milwaukee lacks enough police because we have less than four other cities. I’m not clear where he got his statistics, but it’s fair to say his conclusion is misleading.
The most recent statistics from U.S. Bureau of Justice from May 2015 (with statistics from 2013) look at the level of police in the 50 largest local police departments in America and Milwaukee, with 38 sworn officers per 10,000 residents, has more per capita than all but eight of the 50 biggest cities. The number of sworn officers ranks from a low of 10 per 10,000 residents in San Jose to 61 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, as the nation’s capitol, with unique policing issues, is likely an outlier. Remove it from the list and the next biggest force per capita is Baltimore’s, with 47 sworn officers per 10,000 residents. Baltimore is the only comparably-sized city with more police per capita than Milwaukee. The others are far bigger cities like New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
If anything, Milwaukee’s ranking has risen since then, as the city added 50 more officers in 2015. Indeed, Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council have four times added more officers in recent years, adding 37 in 2011, 73 in 2012, 20 in 2013, and 50 in 2015, a total of 180 officers.
And how did Donovan vote on these provisions? He voted no on all four budgets funding the additional officers.
Donovan’s hollow pontificating, calling for more cops while opposing more spending for this, has left him with absolutely no allies on the Common Council. Not one of his colleagues is likely to support Donovan’s mayoral candidacy, as I’ve previously written. As Ald. Terry Witkowski put it, Donovan “fails to deal with reality. Finances are not important to him. Basically, what you hear him spouting is from the police union. The union is for pay, for benefits, for less work to do.”
Donovan’s most recent press conference, which suggested eliminating some police department administrators in order to pay for more police officers, was likely hatched by the police union. Indeed, union president Mike Crivello was on hand to support Donovan’s plan and declare that “the crooks have gotten the upper hand” in Milwaukee.”
The police union has opposed and undermined every Milwaukee police chief going back to Philip Arreola decades ago. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to have Police Chief Ed Flynn’s personnel decisions supplanted by a demogogic alderman and combative union leader. As for their specific suggestions, to eliminate two Assistant Chiefs of Police, a Deputy Inspector of Police at the Police Academy, a Police Captain and a Police Lieutenant in the Property Control Section, there was no chance the Common Council would approve this.
In fact the council is legally barred from doing so. As Barrett’s chief of staff Pat Curley notes, “The Common Council does not have the authority, through the adoption of the city budget or the budget of the Milwaukee Police Department, to alter the organizational structure of the Police Department. Under the statutes, the Chief and the Fire and Police Commission have that authority.”
Curley goes on: “It’s clear that Ald. Donovan has no understanding of how budgeting works. Individuals currently holding positions he wants to eliminate, under the applicable statutes and rules, would be reassigned or reinstated” — thus saving little or no money.
Curley notes that Donovan’s proposed amendment assumes that a 2008 reorganization of the department added three management positions, but it actually eliminated three Deputy Chief of Police positions in exchange for creating three Assistant Chiefs.
Mark Stanmeyer, spokesperson for Flynn, notes that as of the 2016 budget, there are two fewer command level officers authorized for the Milwaukee Police Department than when Flynn took office. Flynn also ended the annual multi-million dollar overrun of the overtime budget, which occurred prior to him taking over as chief.
The reality is that Barrett and the Common Council have been very committed to beefing up the police department. The budget for the police and fire departments now is equal to the city’s entire tax levy, and accounts for about two-thirds of the entire budget (counting state and federal funds that help support the city). Council members all understand the financial difficulty of further expanding the police force, which is why they have so little use for the histrionics of Donovan and the police union. But that’s unlikely to stop the press releases flowing from the effusive alderman.