Republican Lawmakers Defunding Milwaukee Police
Republican controlled Legislature refuses proposals that would provide Milwaukee with additional annual revenue.
Last week, State Sen. Van Wanggaard, a retired Racine police officer, blasted Gov. Evers for vetoing his “Fund the Police” bill. This bill would have cut state funding to municipalities that cut funding to their police departments by the same amount. The apparent motivation behind this bill is to stop the Defund-the-Police movement dead in its tracks, as cash strapped cities don’t want to lose any state revenue.
In truth, there is no significant Defund-the-Police movement coming from Milwaukee. The concept of defunding the police is very unpopular, including among communities of color. Whereas some may like us to think that our communities are crying out for less police, in reality the opposite is true. Alderpersons are inundated with constituent calls and emails regarding stolen cars, reckless driving, speeding, shootings, trash dumping, and 911 call response times. Despite seemingly having the wind at their backs after the George Floyd murder, the Defund-the-Police movement, at least in Milwaukee, could best be described as a failure to launch. The Mayor essentially ignored their demands for cutting police funding in 2021, despite activists turning out to dominate the public comments during the budget hearings. Activists also failed to get the Common Council to reject the federal COPS grant, which gave the city $10 million for 30 police officers. Milwaukee continues to fund their police department much better than anything else in the city, using nearly our entire property tax levy to do so.
The truth is that the Milwaukee Police Department is, in a way, being defunded, but not by radical leftists. Rather, it is being defunded by the Republican legislature. Shared revenue from the state to municipalities has been significantly cut over the years, despite personnel costs for public safety employees sky-rocketing. Republicans also refuse to allow municipalities to have a local option sales tax, which would make the City of Milwaukee much more self-reliant and less dependent on the state, and able to fund the Milwaukee Police Department even better than it does now. In perhaps the most ironic twist, it is Sen. Wanggaard that is now leading the charge for Milwaukee Police defunding with his poorly named bill. As was noted above, his bill would cut state funding to municipalities that cut funding to their police departments, even if the cuts are for fiscal reasons rather than ideological. At the same time, it provides no additional funding to municipalities to enable them to maintain police department spending. For instance, for 2021, the Mayor proposed a measly $400,000 cut to a $296 million police budget, due to fiscal constraints. Under Wanggaard’s bill, the state would also cut $400,000 from the city, sending police department funding into a death spiral.
But the Milwaukee Police Department isn’t the only law enforcement agency being defunded by Republicans in Madison. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office is mandated by the state to provide freeway patrol, unlike other counties in Wisconsin that are served by the Wisconsin State Patrol, yet they are not fully reimbursed by the state for doing so.
This failure by Republicans to adequately fund our police has resulted in at least 120 Milwaukee officers being cut from the force, and hundreds of vacancies as retirements continue to climb. Statewide we have 13,576 law enforcement officers, the lowest number in at least a decade. Only 766 people entered the law enforcement profession in the State of Wisconsin last year. Again, the lowest number in a decade.
We can’t blame liberals in Milwaukee for defunding the police when the city funds its police at a higher amount than either the property tax levy or what GOP legislators like Sen. Wanggaard send the city in state shared revenue. If there have to be cuts to the police departments of this state, and Republicans refuse to either give more in shared revenue, or provide a mechanism by which cities can raise revenues to prevent being penalized by Wanggaard’s police defunding bill, then the blame for defunding the police will lay at Republicans’ feet. We can’t let the GOP get away with criticizing Milwaukee for “defunding the police” when they are the ones doing the defunding. If they want to restrict and cut the city’s revenues, then they have to be responsible for the damage caused.
Jordan Morales (no relation to former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales), is a resident of the City of Milwaukee.