Council Okays Federal COPS Grant, But…
Police department agrees to certain conditions for grant intended to reform operations.
After rejecting a $9.7 million federal grant to pay for 30 police officers for three years in December, the Milwaukee Common Council reversed course Tuesday and voted to accept the grant. But the approval comes with conditions.
The Milwaukee Police Department command staff has pledged to work towards changing how the department operates.
Alderman Ashanti Hamilton led the negotiation with the police department. “There has been a tremendous amount of cooperation on behalf of acting chief Jeffrey Norman,” said Hamilton. The alderman had previously worked with then-acting chief Michael Brunson, but the department pushed back against a prior version of the conditions, saying it couldn’t guarantee compliance, and Hamilton dropped them, then voted against the grant.
“What’s different is there were a number of ‘shalls’ which meant there was a directive coming from the Common Council,” said Hamilton. “A lot of that definitive language was removed and was replaced with what we are calling a memorandum of understanding with the letter.” The command staff of the police department issued a letter supporting the conditions on January 12th.
“It’s a commitment from the department to achieve this, whether [Norman] continues in this position or there’s a different chief installed,” said Hamilton. The alderman and other council members have called for Norman to be able to use his acting-chief role as an on-the-job tryout for the permanent post. The Fire & Police Commission eliminated Norman, the lone internal finalist, from its candidate list when it narrowed the field from six to three, but has repeatedly deadlocked on selecting the final choice.
“I was pretty much of the position that it was impossible to get the institution to embrace change, but it was the leadership of Chief Norman,” said the alderman of what made the agreement possible.
“Thank you for your leadership on this,” said Council President Cavalier Johnson.
“Regardless of which way this goes, the city loses if we do not begin to embark on the much tougher conversations about the future of policing in the City of Milwaukee,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. “I know many of us will breathe a sigh of relief when this vote is over, but I do believe that when this vote is over the real work begins.”
“It seems to me if we take this, we are just reinforcing a system we know is broken,” said Dimitrijevic.
The $9.7 million grant will 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.
With the grant, the police department will have 1,682 sworn officers in 2021 as part of an approximately $300 million budget. That’s down 120 from 2020.
Mayor Tom Barrett, who championed accepting the grant, 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. The council adopted his proposal with few changes.
“That is literally two short years away,” said Lewis, asking for more discussion on a plan to pay for city services. “We are essentially caught between a rock and a hard place.” She said her vote was based on balance.
“Does anybody know how our city government is going to pay for services in 2023 before we approve this?” asked Stamper.
Hamilton said he shares the same question and part of the agreement is for the Greater Milwaukee Committee to fundraise for a study of the department “so that we can rightsize the police department.”
The police department agreed to report on plans and strategies to implement the conditions in 90 days.
The List of Conditions:
1. Incorporating 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. Working cooperatively 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. Participating and deploying in Milwaukee Promise Zones as a form of community engagement and crime prevention.
6. In collaboration with the Community Collaborative Commission, developing a 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. Prioritizing traffic enforcement and working with the community and system partners to augment and improve reckless driving enforcement.