Josh Zepnick
Op Ed

How to Spend Less On Police

Milwaukee has a huge opportunity to consolidate law enforcement costs.

By - Sep 29th, 2020 02:26 pm
Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Bruce Murphy‘s recent column for Urban Milwaukee arguing that the County Sheriff’s budget could be cut makes a great point but, in my view, does not go far enough on much needed, long overdue reform.

With new faces in old places of the halls of local government, and large- scale community protests powered by legitimate concerns over police/citizen relations, there needs to be a more practical set of solutions than simply abolishing or defunding the police department.

Now is the time for consolidation and partnering across jurisdictions.  This is something County Executive David Crowley campaigned heavily on and should be on the minds of everyone serving on the County Board, Common Council and working in law enforcement. Here are some proposed changes:

1. Shift the freeway patrol to Wisconsin State Patrol. It only makes sense to fit into the model that every other county has and have the state patrol rather than county sheriffs handle this.

2. Consolidate traffic enforcement. Move non-Court operations Sheriff’s employees into a County-wide Traffic Enforcement partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department and any willing suburban police departments. These do not need to the highest paid, most seniority officers. Stop cars, write tickets, repeat.

3. Continue with Mayor Barrett’s attrition plan from already scheduled retirements.

4. Target top salaries for cuts. Browse through the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online database of city employee salaries. One after another, it is the top management of MPD that is sucking major dollars from taxpayers. Chiefs, deputies, captains, lieutenants, analysts…detectives making over $100,000 a year?

What do these people do all day in a crime-filled city that justifies making more than double the average taxpayer? These are some of the highest paid public employees in Wisconsin. Something’s gotta change.

5. Put a Community Prosecutor Unit in each aldermanic district, along with officers to do the community policing. It’s a proven, successful, cost-effective model to engage neighborhood residents in public safety, reduce crime, and minimize those going into court/jail pipeline.

We have an unprecedented opportunity in Milwaukee: Lots of young, new leadership in county and city government, a new Sheriff who campaigned on reform, a former state legislator and now County Executive who campaigned on reform and collaboration, and a number of people on the Common Council who used to serve in County government. (Likewise, people serving on County Board, who used to serve in the Legislature). In other words, our elected officials understand the overlap and nuances of different layers of government.  Speaking the language should help to move new ideas forward and get them in place.

Just tweaking budgets for spending increases here or fiscal cuts there, is not creative or useful and certainly not leadership. Coming up with new partnerships, new policy, and innovative ways to more effectively spend taxpayer dollars for better results is the move the public wants to see regardless of location, income, race or political affiliation.

Josh Zepnick is a former state legislator.

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