Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Sets Conditions For COPS Grant

Committee proposes 7 conditions for police department in order for city to accept federal grant.

By - Dec 14th, 2020 02:45 pm
Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Common Council has found a solution to accept a controversial federal COPS grant to hire 30 officers within the Milwaukee Police Department.

It will attempt to impose seven policy requirements on the police department in exchange for voting to accept the grant. The requests include improving response time, allocating more staff to traffic enforcement and cooperating with an administration analysis on the right balance of civilian staff with sworn officers.

“It will put us in a position that there’s an expectation of what to expect from hiring more officers,” said sponsor Alderman Ashanti Hamilton to members of the Public Safety & Health Committee on Monday. The committee unanimously endorsed the plan.

The $9.7 million grant would pay for all costs related to the officers, including fringe benefits, for three years, but requires the city to maintain the positions in the fourth year. The latter could be an issue for the cash strapped city. The council has delayed accepting the grant since at least October.

“The intent behind these different items is consistent with the intent of the police department,” said MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato. “I do want to make a distinction between aspirational goals and reasonable expectations. It’s going to be very challenging for us to maintain some of these aspirations, let alone improve on them.”

“At the top of the list is one that is always brought up by community members, which is improving and reducing response times,” said Hamilton.

DeSiato said that would be a challenge. The department lost 60 officers in 2020 and will lose another 120 over the course of 2021. He said officers would always respond promptly to the highest priority emergencies, but the resolution calls for improving response to lower priority calls.

“We get that there is always a smarter and better way to do business,” said DeSiato, but he said some of the requests could be a challenge to meet.

“At the end of the day it’s a sample math problem,” said Ald. Michael Murphy. “If you don’t have the bodies to respond to them, you can’t.”

Hamilton said he would like the department to report in 90 days on the status of things, which DeSiato said was fair.

Questions remain as to whether the city could run into challenges if it elects to lay off officers in the future. Recent fiscally-motivated cuts to the police department have taken place by attrition as officers retire or resign. A 120-officer cut approved for 2021 would take place under that framework.

Without the grant, the city would lose 150 officers over the course of 2021.

Future years are expected to bring more difficult city budgets. The city pension fund is expected to require an additional $100 million annual contribution starting in 2023.

Ald. Jose G. Perez led the effort to hold the grant’s acceptance at the last council meeting. He pushed Monday to ensure that a study of policing levels is done objectively and thoroughly.

“There seems to be always an appetite to add new numbers. We want to be able to say what the correct level should be,” said Hamilton.

“This study will allow us to look even beyond reductions of 120 we could feel comfortable with,” said budget director Dennis Yaccarino, noting that the city already plans to move to a unified dispatching center instead of siloed call centers in the fire and police departments.

Hamilton said the Greater Milwaukee Committee could provide financial support to conduct an outside study.

A 2007 study was carried out by a third party, which DeSiato said the department would be comfortable with, but could come at a large expense. “Also, be careful what you wish for,” said DeSiato, noting that it could come back with a recommendation for more staffing.

“Obviously the elephant in the room is we are going to have a new chief,” he said. “I don’t want to write a check I can’t cash.”

The city applied for the federal Department of Justice COPS grant earlier this year. But initial terms of the grant required the Milwaukee Police Department to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of any illegal immigrants in custody, a violation of city policy, and jeopardized the grant’s acceptance. However, MPD received a waiver on that requirement in October.

The full Common Council is scheduled to vote on the requests and the grant’s acceptance on Tuesday, December 15th. Here are the seven policy requirements the department would be required to meet in order to get the COPS grant:

The 7 Requests

1. Adopting a performance-based approach for producing measurements for police staffing and allocations guided by the framework and recommendations included in the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – University of Michigan report, “A Performance-Based Approach to Police Staffing and Allocations”.

2. Improving police response times, particularly responses to lower priority calls, compared to average response times at 2020 year-end.

3. Cooperating with the Department of Administration, who will conduct a civilian-sworn patrol resource analysis of the Police Department, similar in nature to the 2007 Patrol Resource Analysis conducted by Matrix Consulting Group.

4. Expediting implementation of previously-authorized technology integration systems, and in particular implementing Project Greenlight, as a means of leveraging technology resources to reduce strain on sworn and civilian personnel from budget constraints.

5. Taking a proactive approach to crime reduction by focusing on Milwaukee Promise Zone resources and institutions. This shall include enhanced police participation in activities and organizations associated with Promise Zones, and an increase in the physical presence of experienced police officers within the boundaries of Promise Zones, both as a means of deterring crime and for increasing officer familiarity with Promise Zone neighborhoods and community issues.

6. Leading a community engagement process for implementing the forthcoming Community Oriented Policing Standard Operating Procedure. The intention is to demonstrate a commitment to building and maintaining relationships with community members and groups, and to collaborate with the community to address public safety issues and identify solutions to neighborhood problems.

7. Preparing a plan for allocating additional personnel and resources, made available through acceptance of the 2020 COPS Hiring Program grant, to traffic enforcement.

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