Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Moves To Reject Federal COPS Grant

Means 30 fewer officers, leaving Milwaukee down by 150 officers in 2021.

By - Dec 15th, 2020 12:53 pm
Milwaukee Police Department officers block a freeway on-ramp from protesters. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department officers block a freeway on-ramp from protesters. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

After months of debate, the Common Council narrowly rejected a controversial federal COPS grant Tuesday morning that would fund 30 new police officers. The decision comes as the council and other city officials grapple with issues related to policing and growing fiscal issues.

The council rejected the grant on a 6-8-1 vote.

But Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, who voted against its acceptance, took the unusual step of motioning to “enter the file into the journal,” a parliamentary move to allow the council to take one more vote on it during its January meeting.

“It essentially prevents the file from becoming dead,” said City Clerk Jim Owczarski in explaining the intent to a curious Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II. Dodd or another council member who voted “no” vote would need to move for reconsidering the proposal during the January meeting.

If it’s not reconsidered, the Milwaukee Police Department‘s sworn strength will drop by an additional 30 officers in 2021, bringing the total loss to 150 officers.

The $9.7 million grant would pay for all costs related to the officers, including fringe benefits, for three years, but requires Milwaukee to maintain the positions in the fourth year. That could be an issue for the cash-strapped city.

After repeatedly holding a resolution to accept the grant, the council seemed poised to accept it after Ald. Ashanti Hamilton introduced a companion resolution with seven conditions for the police department. The conditions included 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.

“The time period we’re in is requiring us to demand more and to request more from those that have the responsibility of enforcing the law in our communities,” said Hamilton.

But the ability of the council to impose the agreement was unclear. Concerns were raised if the council could block the grant if the police department didn’t comply, if the federal government would approve the grant with the conditions and if the council even had the authority to impose staffing requirements on the police department.

Ald. Michael Murphy, the most vocal advocate of accepting the grant, said he didn’t want to see anything jeopardize its acceptance.

“I don’t know that I want to be in the position of demanding something that cannot be delivered,” said Hamilton after the council had spent over an hour debating the legal concerns of the agreement. He withdrew his resolution.

“I’ll allow for the old arguments, the previous decisions to be before the council,” said Hamilton. “Hopefully that too will be a lesson on how we can move forward to produce a better Milwaukee.”

The police department had encouraged acceptance of the grant, and even supported the seven conditions, though as goals, not requirements.

“These are all worthy goals,” said Acting Police Chief Michael Brunson. “We can’t make guarantees of the items on this list. We can make goals”

“All I hear from MPD is ‘yeah we can’t, yeah we can’t,” said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis.

“It’s going to be a challenge to improve response times when you lose 120 personnel, that’s just common sense,” said Brunson. Lewis and others described the conditions as goals, but the language of the resolution laid them out as requirements without a clear penalty for non-compliance.

According to MPD chief of staff Nick DeSiato, the city has been receiving various forms of the grant for 25 years. He said imposing the conditions was unprecedented.

Would it jeopardize the issuance of the federal grant? “To be totally candid, I don’t know the answer,” said DeSiato.

But DeSiato did seek to add clarity that the city isn’t receiving money to impose requirements on it as it sees fit, as Ald. Khalif Rainey suggested.

“It’s not like it’s a $10 million check, it’s a drawn down grant with certain conditions,” said DeSiato. “I just want to be clear there are certainly terms and limitations with it.”

Assistant city attorney Tom Miller said the requirements of the grant called for the city to allocate 30 veteran officers to the federal Operation Legend crime-fighting effort. The grant is intended to fund replacement officers.

Miller said he did not believe the council’s requirements would jeopardize the federal funds, but another issue loomed. State law places police oversight in the hands of the Fire & Police Commission, not the council. He said another attorney was looking into whether the council could impose the conditions without violating state law.

Ald. Milele A. Coggs said the lengthy discussion was a sign that the council was struggling with the bigger issue of policing. She said the problems would continue until that discussion was had and encouraged council president Cavalier Johnson to advance it.

“Let’s face it. We’re having a conversation without a conversation,” said Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic in support of Coggs. “You know why we’re at a crossroads? Because it’s a hard issue.”

Voting to accept the grant were Robert Bauman, JoCasta Zamarripa, Murphy, Mark Borkowski, Scott Spiker and Johnson.

Hamilton, Nik Kovac, Dodd, Coggs, Rainey, Jose G. Perez, Dimitrijevic and Stamper voted to reject the grant.

Lewis abstained without explanation.

After the vote, Bauman sought to change his vote to “no.” Council rules require unanimous consent for such a change and Hamilton objected without explanation.

The police department will have 1,652 sworn officers in 2021 as part of an approximately $300 million budget.

Mayor Tom Barrett, who championed accepting the grant, had proposed a 120-officer reduction, achieved by attrition, not layoffs, but at a savings of only $432,000, in the latest budget.

“Many people are probably wondering, how can it be that the police budget is almost the same as it was last year, and at the same time 120 police positions will not be filled next year? The answer is we cut salaries by $8.5 million, but police health care and other personnel costs have risen and chewed up those budgetary savings,” said Barrett in delivering his September budget address.

Hamilton had his companion resolution sent back to the Public Safety & Health Committee so the seven requirements for the police department could be revisited outside the confines of the COPS grant.

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Related Legislation: File 200676

One thought on “City Hall: Council Moves To Reject Federal COPS Grant”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Looks like they will have blood on there hands if the record breaking violence in milwaukee continues

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