Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City Could Lose 30 More Police Officers

Federal grant rules could mean cutting 30 more than proposed cut of 120 cops.

By - Oct 19th, 2020 11:52 am
Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s police force might be down 150 officers in 2021, even before the Common Council debates any further cuts or a realignment as a result of a nationwide push for policing reform sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

Mayor Tom Barrett‘s proposed 2021 budget calls for a $432,000 reduction in the department’s budget and a 120 officer reduction. The cut is being driven by the increasing cost of salaries and fringe benefits for the officers.

Now the city might lose another 30 officers.

A federal COPS grant the city applied for in March, and that Barrett’s budget assumed the city would receive, would pay for adding a 30-officer recruiting class in 2021. But the grant requires the Milwaukee Police Department to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of any illegal immigrants in custody. And a standard operating procedure (SOP), adopted in April by the Fire & Police Commission, prevents MPD from cooperating with ICE on matters of illegal immigration in many cases without a warrant.

The Department of Justice would give the city the grant if it would amends its procedures to cooperate. Which the police department opposes.

“Certainly we are not agreeable to amending,” said MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato to members of the Finance & Personnel Committee on October 14th.

Yet the MPD, prior to the SOP change, certified it could meet the federal grant requirement. “It was submitted under a grant manager who has since retired, overseen by an assistant chief who has since retired,” said DeSiato.

“I think everyone on the committee is aware that the certainty of this grant is in question at the moment,” said budget and policy manager Bryan J. Rynders in presenting an overview of the nearly $300 million budget of the police department.

DeSiato said MPD has been in touch with the City Attorney’s office and the DOJ on an amendment whereby the federal government would waive its requirements to award the grant. “I personally have probably been on over a dozen phone calls involving this issue,” said DeSiato of the past two weeks.

“What is the timeline on that?” asked Alderman Michael Murphy of any DOJ waiver.

“We do not have a timeline on that,” said DeSiato.

Budget director Dennis Yaccarino said if the Department of Justice accepts the amended terms his office would work with MPD to make the timing of a recruiting class work in 2021.

The budget office anticipates the department would lose approximately five officers per two-week pay period, ending the year with 1,620 officers. An average of 1,682 would be maintained for the year.

A graph presented by Rynders shows Milwaukee, at the end of 2021, having fewer officers per capita than Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, Boston, Memphis and Pittsburgh. The city would continue to have more officers than per-capita than Kansas City, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Louisville and Oakland.

Bigger Cuts Coming?

The three-and-a-half-hour discussion also delved into response times and staffing issues that might occur with an even larger staffing reduction. The council requested that the budget office prepare an analysis of a 10 percent cut in advance of the budget discussions and the resulting report largely explored a variety of options that would change the department, but not immediately save money.

“I remember people that came to the public budget hearing and said don’t tell me it can’t be done, just tell me you’ll do it or you won’t, in terms of a more significant reduction in the police budget,” said Ald. Nik Kovac. “And I do think it’s important for the general public to understand what tools are at our disposal. So there is currently proposed a very significant cut of 120, possibly 150, officers in one year, which is not quite 10 percent but relatively close to 10 percent.”

“The general public is probably going to say, and even the department is probably going to say, how in the world did you reduce so much personnel and yet the savings is $400,000,” said Kovac. He said attention needed to be paid to fringe benefit costs. “There was a significant increase this year.” An increase in estimated health care costs is the biggest driver according to the budget office.

“It is very hard to get anywhere near an actual budget savings without completely decimating the department,” said Kovac. “That is a fair assumption,” said Rynders. The city’s labor agreement with the police union requires the city to lay off the least senior members first, which would cut the lowest paid officers first. The expectation is that laying off officers, instead of losing them attrition (mostly retirements of older officers) would result in a less diverse police force.

A full $75 million cut, requested by some community groups, would result in 720 layoffs, including all officers hired since 2010 according to a Legislative Reference Bureau report. Approximately 95 percent of MPD’s budget goes towards personnel costs.

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs said the city needs to find a way to fund the department at an appropriate level without sending the city into bankruptcy.

“I know people that love the police and want the police every time they call to be there in two seconds, and I know people who hate the police and want them to be destroyed and dismantled,” said Coggs. “But somewhere in the middle, there have to be real conversations about real cuts. We can’t afford to fund you all at the level that we are.”

The MPD budget exceeds Milwaukee’s entire property tax levy and accounts for 46% of the city’s proposed general fund spending in 2021. The police department’s budget has grown by $80 million since 2010, while the next 18 departments have only seen budget increases totaling $48.9 million combined.

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One thought on “City Hall: City Could Lose 30 More Police Officers”

  1. Paul Mozina says:

    SOP 130 – FOREIGN NATIONALS – DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY – IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT, was amended and approved by the Fire and Police Commission on December 18, 2019. Although it was not issued or “adopted” until April 21, 2020, there were no changes made to after it was approved last December. The changes to SOP 130 that conflict with the grant application were certainly known to the MPD prior to the submission of the grant application in March of 2020.

    Voces de la Frontera organized huge demonstrations at City Hall last November-December in support of the changes to SOP 130. They lined the halls of the third floor and it was so packed you could barely get from the elevators to room 301-B where the FPC was deliberating the changes. MPD’s grant writing team was apparently out of the loop or simply not paying attention prior to their submission of the grant application in March, but the MPD command staff was WELL AWARE of the changes in December.

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