Tamarine Cornelius
Wisconsin Budget

32 Cities Devote Most Spending to Police

One-third of state’s largest cities, including Milwaukee, spend more on police than any other function.

By , Wisconsin Budget Project - Jul 7th, 2020 06:55 pm
Milwaukee Police Department

Milwaukee Police Department

A third of Wisconsin’s largest cities spend more on law enforcement than any other function, according to a new analysis by the Wisconsin Budget Project.

Local governments in Wisconsin – including cities, villages, towns, and counties – spend more than $2 billion a year on law enforcement and related costs like jails. Black community leaders have called on policymakers to put that money to alternative services, shifting resources away from law enforcement and towards mental health services, housing, job assistance, and other social services.

The Wisconsin Budget Project has published a new online database that shows the amount spent on law enforcement and related costs in Wisconsin’s 100 largest cities and all 72 counties, as well as the share of each local government’s total budget that goes to law enforcement.

In one-third of Wisconsin’s largest cities, or 32 out of the 100 most populous cities, policymakers have chosen to spend more on law enforcement than on anything else, including transportation, sanitation, parks and development, or fire and ambulance services. Each of these top-spending cities allocate at least $1 out of every $5 in their budgets to law enforcement. Among Wisconsin’s ten largest cities, four of them – Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine, and Appleton – spend more on law enforcement than any other cost.

Three Wisconsin cities go even further, spending more than $1 out of every $3 in their budget on law enforcement: Glendale, Muskego, and Mequon. One thing these highest-spending cities have in common is they are all high-income areas near the City of Milwaukee, and all have a typical household income at least 25 percent higher than the Wisconsin average. In fact, the typical household in Mequon has an income almost twice as high as the typical Wisconsin household.

Recent killings by police officers have heightened concerns that local governments have used resources for law enforcement in ways that harm individuals and communities. The statistics on spending by Wisconsin cities and counties provide a chance to compare how much various municipalities are devoting to law enforcement.

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