More Police Is Not the Answer

Better trained police — and spending on services for under-served neighborhoods — is a better approach.

By - Nov 1st, 2016 11:29 am
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Every American understands the fundamental value of self-preservation — of literally being able to live and breathe another day.

For most Americans, this translates into having a good lock on the door, a security guard in front of a building, or a police department that responds to signs of danger or sightings of people who seem bent on crime or destruction.

For African Americans, especially African American males, self-preservation is not something that can be taken for granted. Just the opposite. Self-preservation is always fragile, temporary, subject to threats.  Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about this reality in his book, In Between the World and Me, which is addressed to his son. Coates says, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is a tradition to destroy the Black body — it is heritage.”  Every time a black person ends up dead in the street — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, Sylville Smith in Milwaukee, Jay Anderson Jr. in Wauwatosa, and most recently Deborah Danner in New York City — the sense of insecurity, the feeling of being under siege, deepens. We are reminded that our daughters, our brothers, and we are simply not safe in our own cities, in our own nation.

And we don’t see earmarking more and more money for more and more police as the answer. Spending more on police, some of whom use their power to end our lives, and not spending more on initiatives that preserve and enhance our lives, is perverse.

That’s why, when we hear Police Chief Flynn declaring Center Street the epicenter of violence in our city and planning to send more police to curb that violence, we have to wonder how many of those additional police will be trigger-happy individuals who act as judge, jury, and executioner in our communities.

Well-trained, well-supervised, and professional police are needed, because there ARE dangerous individuals who prey on our communities and we MUST be protected from them. But so are outdoor athletic facilities at Washington High School, which would provide our young people with opportunities to pursue their dreams on the fields and courts instead of hanging out on streets that endanger them from a very early age. So is an indoor soccer complex on the south side. So are constructive diversion programs so that young people who commit minor non-violent offenses are not channeled into the criminal justice system automatically, but are given the education and guidance necessary to finish school and find a job. So is Crisis Intervention Training for police so that they are properly equipped to deal with those suffering with mental illness, whose actions and outbursts may seem threatening if not defused and moderated. So is the diversion of people with mental illness away from jail cells and into new crisis stabilization facilities. So is longer term housing, with support services, for those with mental illness. So is a commitment from the police department to engage in systematic relationship-building with residents of local communities, instead of treating all residents as potential enemies in a war zone.

According to Mayor Barrett, “The police department budget of $302 million is more than our entire property tax levy.” This means more than 100% of 2017’s property taxes is earmarked for public safety and policing. There is little or nothing left for the kinds of other investments that neighborhoods desperately need.

It is time to recognize that more policing — without a commitment to meaningful relationships, community improvements, and proper training — is not just crippling our budget and starving other fundamental needs in our city. It is reinforcing the belief in African American communities that the larger community values ‘peace’ at any price. The price is more and more dollars for more and more police with more and more weapons. The price is also dead African Americans who are gunned down with regularity.

Common Ground’s Black Caucus is made up of Keisha Krumm, Lead Organizer Common Ground, Rev Will Davis, Rev Ciara Davis of Invisible Reality Ministries, John Eshun MKE Rising Organizer at Common Ground and Frank Finch III member of Mt Calvary Lutheran

5 thoughts on “Op-Ed: More Police Is Not the Answer”

  1. AG says:

    Those are, for the most part, commendable suggestions. However, before we work on an indoor soccer field, let’s get our police response times in parts of this city below 10 minutes for high priority calls. Some people who represent high crime areas seem to believe the added patrols are for their neighborhoods… failing to realize that large swaths of “safer” parts of the city are left with barely any protection at all and have been feeling the effects of that increase for the past several years.

  2. Todd Spangler says:

    As a comparison to Milwaukee with its population of approximately 599,000, St. Louis has a population of 315,000 and a FY2016 police budget of $128 million. As of the latest weekly St. Louis Police Dept. update published today (November 1), there have been 160 homicides in the city (there were an additional two today not included) versus the current total of 131 for Milwaukee I see at JSOnline. If you do the math, Milwaukee spends $504 annually per capita on its police force compared to $406 in St. Louis, about 25% more, but with a per capita murder rate less than half that of St. Louis, perhaps some of this money might actually be viewed as well spent.

    I don’t disagree with the need for better trained police officers. To me, initial officer demeanor and conduct played a significant role in the events leading up to the death of Michael Brown in St. Louis County two years ago. However, I think there must also necessarily be some positive correlation between the total number of law enforcement officers available and the ability to deter crime. My observation is that there is substantially less crime in certain areas of St. Louis, such as the downtown, that are given priority and are very heavily patrolled. That this diversion of manpower detracts from the ability to more effectively patrol the areas in the city that are killing zones is frustrating. Like many things, it winds up being mostly about priorities and politics.

  3. Patty says:

    Did you look into the cost of police overtime that has been spent over the last few years? That is one of the biggest reasons that the MPD budget keeps increasing. Go to this link and without entering any information, start scrolling down the first page while keeping an eye on the overtime pay and who it is going to. http://archive.jsonline.com/watchdog/dataondemand/city-of-milwaukee-employee-salaries-2015-374048931.html#!/totalgross.desc.1/ Chicago has finally realized that you can’t continue to cover police shortages with overtime. The police budget explodes, the cops get burned out, and greater percentages of those eligible to retire do so (which leaves you even more short-handed because you didn’t plan for it). The fact is that there were 280 more officers on the streets in 2008 than there are now (this confirmed using data provided by the MPD) and if you don’t think that has an impact on response times, police presence in neighborhoods, clearance rates (especially homicides) and the ability of officers to participate in community programs, you are sadly mistaken.

  4. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    This is pipe dream of all, has not worked anywhere especially on Chicago southside. Giuliani and Bloomberg showed the way, that worked.
    Just think what the ramifications of trying this and all the peoel, innocents one that would be killed.

  5. Y Marti says:

    It would be interesting to look at trends in uniformed officers up to current days and the relation to crime rates. I’m sure that doesn’t tell the whole story as Patty mentioned about the increase in police overtime but it would be a good benchmark for people saying that more police are the only answer. For reference, I pulled some numbers out of the VOI for 1979, 1988, and 1998. These are the total numbers of uniformed officers for all seven districts, not including vice, detectives, special units or moto cops:

    1979 – 718
    1988 – 1101
    1998 – 1023

    I’m sure all of those numbers are well below current uniformed officer staffing or are they? Is crime directly proportional to the number of officers or not? I tend to think the latter but obviously someone could dig a little deeper to get the current stats of officers and make a better comparison. Either way, OT eats up budgets fast. While I’m sure any officer will never be against OT (How else can you earn a six figure salary and afford that nice home in the suburbs??), they will pretend they need more colleagues to effectively fight crime.

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