Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Groups Want 25% Cut in Sheriff’s Budget

Activist groups push for defunding. Sheriff Lucas submitted budget with only a 1.4% cut.

By - Aug 17th, 2020 04:39 pm
Sheriff Earnell Lucas speaking at a press conference on June 26th, 2020. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Sheriff Earnell Lucas speaking at a press conference on June 26th, 2020. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

A number of Milwaukee activist organizations, unions and political associations are calling on Milwaukee County to reduce the budget for the Sheriff’s Office by 25 percent.

This call is part of the movement to defund police, which has gained national support since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other killings at the hands of police. Marchers and activists have called for governments to shift funding away from law enforcement and toward social programs.

The letter, dated Aug. 14, demanded an $11.6 million cut in the Sheriff’s Office budget. Its signatories include Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), Black Educators Caucus, African-American Civic Engagement Roundtable, The Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America and its Black Socialist Caucus.

County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson is the vice-president of MASH. And Supervisor Ryan Clancy issued a statement Friday, following the release of the letter, saying he supports a 25 percent cut. Clancy said he’s seen the impact reduced revenue has had on county services like housing behavioral health. He said he knows, “how much better we could do if we moved the money to where it does the most good.”

Sheriff Earnell Lucas already submitted his 2021 departmental budget request in July. Like many county departments, Lucas reduced the Sheriff’s office budget request to help with the county’s projected $42 million budget gap, more than half of which is due to rising costs and lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lucas’s budget request included a 1.4 percent reduction, or $759,256, from 2020. He also said he’s planning to implement cost-neutral organizational changes to the Sheriff’s Department within the 2021 budget. Specifically, Lucas said he would merge expressway and parks patrol under an existing supervision authority in the department. The same would be done with Criminal Investigation and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, often called HIDTA.

The Sheriff’s office is responsible for law enforcement at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, the jail, the courthouse, the freeway system within the county and also provides security at some county infrastructure and at regional medical facilities, Lucas said.

The public letter quotes Lucas during a July interview with WUWM when the Sheriff said that law enforcement isn’t trained to respond to mental health crises, “addictive behaviors” or “juveniles with emotional issues.”

“Yet all those issues collapse and fall on law enforcement,” Lucas said. The signatories of the letter wrote, “We agree with you! Law enforcement should not be the one stop shop for all issues that arise in the county of Milwaukee.”

To that end, the signatories said they want the 25 percent reduction in the Sheriff’s Office budget to be directed towards “early literacy, housing security, democratic and community controlled economic development, youth job programming, enhanced park services in low-income areas, expanded health services, and public transportation.”

As one of the top law enforcement officials in the Milwaukee area, Lucas has said he supports conversations about the future of law enforcement. “There’s been a number of conversations already in the public,” Lucas said in June. “And whether it’s on the militarization of police, whether it’s on the issue of qualified immunity, or whether it’s on the issues of no-knock warrants, these are all discussions that we can have in this country and in this community on how we can do policing in this 21st century.”

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