Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Long Awaited Safety Plan Gets Attacked

A blueprint for change or too vague and hard to understand? Council members wrangle.

By - Nov 20th, 2017 05:51 pm
Bevan K. Baker and Bob Donovan.

Bevan K. Baker and Bob Donovan.

There is now a blueprint for public safety in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, not every member of the Common Council agrees with it.

The Blueprint for Peace, introduced before the council’s Public Safety and Health Committee on Monday morning, was met with support from council president Ashanti Hamilton and Ald. Chantia Lewis and intense scrutiny from council members Robert Donovan and Mark Borkowski.

The plan was billed as “community driven” by Department of Public Health Commissioner Bevan K. Baker. He presented the long-anticipated 96-page plan to the committee alongside Office of Violence Prevention director Reggie Mooreprogram manager David Muhammad and United Way vice president of community impact Nicole Angresano.

Moore told the committee that more than 150 stakeholders were involved in creating the report, and that the group surveyed thousands of people to guide its structure. Angresano added “By the time you get to homicide data, the homicides have already happened and it’s always bad data…  What we haven’t had is a collective and coordinated program to address these issues.”

While the report is intended to guide citywide policy, it identifies 10 neighborhoods for priority treatment, all but two of which are on the north side of the city. The neighborhoods of Old North Milwaukee, Harambee, Franklin Heights, Silver Spring, North Division, Amani, Sherman Park, Historic Mitchell Street, Lincoln Village and Midtown are singled out based on Milwaukee Police Department data and other city information sources.

The report lays out seven clear goals: stop the shooting; promote healing and restorative justice; support children, youth and families; promote economic opportunity; foster safe neighborhoods; and strengthen capacity and coordination of violence prevention efforts.

Recommended strategies are attached to each goal and range from concrete ideas like forming specific committees to track and coordinate on issues to more abstract ideas like “Build capacity and collaboration across priority neighborhoods in citywide implementation.” The goals and recommendations make up the bulk of the report and are colorfully displayed in a wide array of lists.

That’s too much for Ald. Borkowski. He told the packed room: “It reads like a doctoral dissertation. There is a lot of stuff. It’s almost overwhelming.” He went on to suggest of non-profit groups in town, “We have a lot of agencies in this community who feel they are entitled, entitled to whatever monies are available… Honestly this is just Mark Borkowski talking, call me what you want.”

Committee chair Ald. Donovan piled on, stating “I ran into more than a few paragraphs that I had to read two, three or even four times to fully understand what I was reading.”

He went on to complain, “I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get more information in advance. The mayor gets briefed on this in advance. The mayor gets copies of this in advance. If the council does not, and we’re listed as partners on this effort, are we or are we not?” Baker responded: “Our intent all along has been to make certain that this body not only has a chance to review, but to direct this initiative.” Earlier in the meeting, Hamilton had said “it was always the impression for me, and it was always the discussion we had at the implementation committee, that this would be a living document.”

Donovan then pivoted to querying about the cost. Baker declined to cite a specific number, noting that the effort would take years and due to its nature as a public private partnership would have funding coming from a variety of sources, many of which already exist. He noted that Bader Philanthropies had just pledged $100,000 to a violence prevention measure.

After a lengthy response from Baker that cited Minneapolis, Oakland and New Orleans as positive planning examples, Donovan responded: “You ought to run for office, commissioner; you talk a lot and don’t say too much.”

The comment drew a swift rebuke from Hamilton, who said “I’m a little frustrated that it’s not sitting with you well. I think it’s important for everyone to understand all the things we’ve done to get to the point of a damn blueprint.”

The council president, who just a year ago was collaborating one-on-one with Donovan on a similar plan, went on to refute the southside alderman who has long demanded more cops on the streets. “If you don’t tie job creation efforts to the sustainability of any violence prevention efforts, then you’re not talking about anything,” Hamilton declared. “But to put a number on it is impossible.” He then summed up the situation, saying “We are in an impossible fight and we are going to win anyway.”

But Hamilton, who estimated that only $85 million to $100 million of every $1.5 billion city budget goes into alleviating poverty and inequity in the city, conceded that Borkowski’s concern over evaluating performance of any plan was important and should be done.

After a substantial back and forth between Donovan, Hamilton, Baker and Moore, Ald. Lewis jumped in, stating, “I just had to say something because I was over here fuming. We are tired of being on a list of places for worst place for African Americans to live and worst place to raise a family.” She called the anti-violence plan “an all-hands-on-deck response.”

Donovan’s retort: “Everyone here, including myself, is interested in preventing violence across Milwaukee. We also have an obligation as elected officials to adopt the best, most successful effort to do that. I’m just concerned that we may, by just blindly adopting this, and moving forward with a rah-rah mentality, that we will create a false sense of hope in this community. I think we have an obligation to scrutinize this as we do.”

Perhaps sensing the debate was starting to go in circles, Ald. Terry Witkowski jumped in and motioned the report be placed on file given that it didn’t require any committee action beyond receiving the report. That motion carried.

Eventually, for the report to have any impact, the council must vote to adopt the plan and allocate resources towards initiatives within it.

The report is available online.

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18 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Long Awaited Safety Plan Gets Attacked”

  1. Eat the Rich says:

    Borkowski and Donovan bristle because they don’t understand a plan that calls for helping brown people, not just tossing them in prison. That’s not news, that’s just every day life in Milwaukee.

  2. Milwaukee Resident says:

    Amazing but true: Mark Borkowski of all people seems to have the best position on this one.

    This plan is a smorgasboard of random, occasionally nonsensical, almost always not measurable suggestions that result when you spend a couple of years asking random people who don’t know how to fix Milwaukee’s problems how to fix Milwaukee’s problems and when you are not under any actual obligation to be held accountable for whether or not you make progress. This isn’t about having “a plan” (a document lacking in concrete steps, a budget, and measurable goals is not actually a plan; it’s a media communication) that actually works. It’s about bringing in so many people, and creating something so vaguely agreeable, and producing enough glowing and uncritical media, that you keep enough opposition at bay long enough to ride things out through the next election.

    Milwaukee goes through these sorts of things on occasion. Bring in “the community” (e.g. some random folks who like and support you and others who just appreciate feeling important) to formulate a plan, spend more effort on the presentation of the document than the substance of the document, and garner as much media as you can. What comes next is handing out a few dollars to nonprofits that play along, garnering more media from anecdotes of a random person helped by the nonprofit, taking credit for anything good happening in Milwaukee which could fall under the umbrella of the plan (which is to say, anything good happening in Milwaukee), saying the plan works, and ignoring (or explaining away if called out) the larger measurable realities of where Milwaukee is at and the lack of measurable progress. Rinse. Repeat. Milwaukee has become good at this, and it’s proven to be just good enough to hold the citizens of Milwaukee at bay just enough to hold off large scale riots and a total restructuring of leadership in the city.

    The Common Council has the opportunity – and given the demonstrated lack of leadership from the Mayor, the obligation – to demand more. That starts with an honest and difficult conversation about where Milwaukee truly is and what truly can and cannot meaningful work when it comes to measurably decreasing poverty.

  3. Frank Schneiger says:

    There are various ways of looking at this issue and the report. One is to take the tried and true path and see it as a purely racial issue. Another, related, is to view it as a useful political wedge issue, a club to beat the other guys over the head with, and to rally our guys against them. Then, there are those who see it as a “funding” opportunity.

    Here is an alternative: think of community safety/violence as an organizational problem to be solved, rather than one where the goal is to fix blame or to find ourselves blameless.

    Within that context, here are some basic principles: (1) these problems are difficult, but they are not insoluble, since they have been successfully addressed in various places; (2) reducing violence and achieving true community peace are not the same thing, and the second should be the goal, even if it is more difficult; (3) poverty leads to violence and unsafe/unhealthy communities, but violence also produces poverty. It is not a one-way street; (4) pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you believe that nothing can work, you will always be right.

    Given these principles, here is a thought for getting beyond the “report.” The report contains data and “strategies” derived from meetings with many “stakeholders.” This is all useful, but strategies are easy. The hard part is always execution, and here is a formula/equation for execution that is the path to actually getting worthwhile things done.

    Success = flawless execution, and Execution = a solid and clearly defined strategy + time targeted, measurable and achievable goals and objectives + the right people in the right roles/jobs + effective basic systems and work processes + a culture, norms and behaviors of performance, accountability, high ethical standards and clarity + implementation tools, especially action plans that are grounded in reality and tracking systems that hold people responsible for what they have committed to doing, and real consequences if they don’t do them.

    View that equation as a check list, and have the people responsible work through it to make sure the pieces are in place. Then this report can be seen as the platform for real positive change and providing the pathway to peaceful and healthy communities. Keep haggling about who is good and evil, and the self-fulfilling prophesy that “nothing ever changes here” will again be fulfilled.

  4. David Nelson says:

    Milwaukee Resident: You make a lot of general statements (and that might be okay). However, to have credibility as a local expert, please tell us in some detail about measures/organizations (public or private or PPP) that have successfully worked to mitigate poverty, have provided food access, have brought jobs to underemployed neighborhoods, or have provided transportation to medical visits, work/work training. There are many Milwaukee residents who know the answer. Do you? It’s all well and good to do the best we can to measure outcomes, and all programs should strive for that. It is entirely another thing to imply no good has come from these efforts. That allows the folks with hearts two sizes too small to point and grin because you did their work for them.

  5. David Nelson says:

    Yes, Frank Schneiger.

  6. RB says:

    Milwaukee Resident: I agree. Milwaukee & the State of Wisconsin have shown that it is not willing to tackle the capitalism and white hegemony that has a stranglehold on this city, and has reduced the lives of Black & Brown residents to that of mere survival. The mayor has recently spent over $700 million funding the Bucks arena, downtown and lake drive condos, and a street car all to appease an upper middle class white population to live in Milwaukee while benefiting the business leaders and corporations that are Downtown while thousands of African-American and Latino “constituents” are drinking lead tampered water on the North & South Sides while the Governor is only seeking to expand the prison population using the heroin and stollie epidemic as dog-whistles, along with cuts to social programs. Instead of redirecting that money towards the 14 distressed zip codes in this city, the mayor instead hopes to create an illusion of progress through neoliberal trickle down economics and gentrification.

    This plan is nothing but lip service that will not actually be implemented.

  7. Old Man Yells at Cloud says:

    Borkowski and Donovan sound like they are attending Tump U.

  8. Milwaukee Resident says:

    @David Nelson What’s your definition of “successfully worked” and “good” produced by efforts? Are there organizations that can provide outputs of the number of people provided a benefit, number of trips provided, employed for 90+ days etc? Of course, Lord knows the city is littered with nonprofits that will tell you how they are performing miracles. Has the larger reality of Milwaukee’s condition changed after decades of these efforts existing? I don’t think it has.

    Not to be overly cynical or dramatic, but you could say that these efforts, collectively, have been successful in a) keeping things from being even worse (though given Milwaukee’s poverty/segregation/etc relative to other places, I don’t know how much worse they can realistically get given current state/national/international conditions; b) gainfully and sustainably employing (directly and indirectly) a bunch of people who collectively make up a large share of Milwaukee’s fledgling black middle class; c) keeping the city just above water enough to avoid all out revolt.

    Have individual people been helped? Absolutely. Have lives been changed? Of course. And we do need to celebrate that, to maintain our hope and sanity if nothing else. I’m going to be charitable and say that enough of the “folks with hearts two sizes too small” would react to a meaningful action plan that uncomfortably acknowledges Milwaukee’s realities and at least has a fighting chance of showing a strong ROI. Any plan that could work will require a lot of capital, and those are the folks who control it. Whether we like it or not, we will need them if we are to succeed. They see Milwaukee’s condition and see “plans” like this as a joke and nothing other than a potential money drain. And based on how we operate and our record, you cannot blame them.

    I’m setting aside the often overwhelming racial hostility that Milwaukee receives from Madison and the suburbs. Although more intense in Milwaukee than is typical elsewhere, that exists everywhere and it’s not going to measurably change in any sort of time frame that could ever be helpful to us. It’s devastating, unjust, and it rightfully inspires resentment, fury, and calls for action (and, even, occasional action). We’ve also spent 50 years barking up that tree with absolutely nothing to show for it.

    At some point – not to be dismissive – the racial hostility has to become an operating condition that has to be worked around. Instead, it’s used as an excuse for inaction and failure. Given the overwhelming power of institutional and societal racism, that’s not at all unfair. Believe me, I know. But it’s also not at all productive. So often, we’re afraid to acknowledge our own failings, as clear and obvious as they are, in settings where white people, and especially the “folks with hearts two sizes too small,” can hear. Why? What do we have to lose?

  9. BM says:

    I’m young, I’m Black, and I’m tired of you old hags always “Planning to Make a Plan” This city sucks not because of the violence, but lack of upward mobility for blacks. Black leaders like Hamilton dont do enough critical thinking, they look to sound bites and pretty proposals to do the heavy mental lifting. How many black business owners in proportion to blacks, How many black businesses are in black neighborhoods. Shit is very simple, the city needs to pull out the economic ladder for is talented black youth, and allow them to lead there peers into a better future. Alderman, Church leaders, Black Leaders in general, have all been the same bunch for my entire 30 yr life, yet none of them take the accountability for this place being so bad for blacks. This place is not the worst in the americas for Hmong, for Nigerians, for Whites, or for Hispanics. Its the worst for blacks and that is because we have the worst leadership. Stop using poverty and crime to propel your political careers and actually do something. Create some black millionaires, create a better economic black environment. IDIOTS!!!!!

  10. RB says:


    Michael McGee had a plan for the city. COINTELPRO got rid of him. He called out Milwaukee for what it was, and was linking up with Hugo Chavez. They locked him on trumped up charges.

    They tried to discredit Ald Joe Davis for linking up with the Wild 100s also.

  11. David Nelson says:

    Well. There are some interesting comments here. How do we build capacity to create plans which are well informed? Who has the skills and the motivation to mentor this process?

  12. Bm says:

    David, focus on the talented tenth and they will lead their peers. No one in these challenged areas gives a rats ass about what some old people have to say. Create young leaders,and get the hell out the way.

  13. Jim M says:

    Bar Stool Donovan was, is and always will be a nay say’er . Like Benny in the movie the Mummy, Donovan’s answer is ” That’s what I do “

  14. RB says:


    Talented tenth didn’t work with DuBois. Won’t work now

  15. Milwaukee Resident says:

    @Bm Most of the talented tenth move away to places that offer better opportunities for them. The typical response to that reality is some version of “it takes a village”, “we have to stay and fight” and so forth, which doesn’t work. Milwaukee needs to create conditions that incentivize the talented tenth to stay here. Not because they want to improve their community, but because staying in Milwaukee is best for their career and their family. I wish I knew how to do that.

  16. Thomas says:

    BLUEPRINT deserves serious consideration. Neither Donovan nor Borkowski appear capable of seriously considering anything. I recommend tuning them out for the meanwhile, looking for positive steps that can be taken from elements of the BLUEPRINT, and working together one step at a time to make our most troubled neighborhoods less violent and more open to opportunities.

  17. Green Door says:

    BM, I’m middle aged and white and I’m also sick of the “let’s plan to make a plan” strategy. And isn’t this what this is? A blueprint for a plan? And I can tell you what will happen next: they’ll form a committee to create a task force to host a round table discussion to create a report that will be distributed to all, read by a few, and acted on by none.

  18. David Nelson says:

    Green Door: So what you’re basically saying is that all the long hours you put in at the nursing home, the soup kitchen, and volunteering to clean a stretch of highway (kudos for being a highly engaged and civic minded person) have come to naught in the wake of imperfect planning?

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