Graham Kilmer

Evers Gives Milwaukee $20 Million for Public Safety

Majority of ARPA funding to county will go toward court system's case backlog.

By - Mar 15th, 2022 04:44 pm
Milwaukee County Courthouse

Milwaukee County Courthouse. File photo by Jeramey Jannene

Governor Tony Evers visited Milwaukee Tuesday morning to announce $50 million in grants for public safety around the state, with approximately $20 million going to Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee.

The funding comes from the state’s allocation of federal ARPA funds. Of the $20 million headed to Milwaukee, the lion’s share will be devoted to working through the circuit court system’s backlog of cases.

“We know this pandemic has challenged our families, and our neighborhood, and the entire state in more ways than we ever could have imagined,” the governor said. He noted that violent crime, mental health issues and substance abuse disorders have been increasing since the pandemic began.

“Violence is not a foregone conclusion,” Evers said. “It is not inevitable. There are things we can do and this is another public health crisis that deserves our attention.

Evers was joined by Attorney General Josh Kaul and local public officials including Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Chief Judge Mary E. Triggiano.

Kaul said the funding from the state is intended to be flexible, so that local leaders can make decisions about how to address public safety, not “politicians in Madison.” He also called on the state Legislature to return to session and use some of the state’s approximately $4 billion surplus to invest in communities.

The $20 million in funding for Milwaukee will be spread among several programs and initiatives aimed at addressing crime and mental health. They include the integration of mental health clinicians into the City of Milwaukee’s 911 dispatch center, infrastructure projects aimed at reducing reckless driving, an expansion of pretrial GPS supervision, funding for Milwaukee County’s Mental Health Treatment Court, and employment and vocational programs for people incarcerated at the Milwaukee County House of Correction.

From that allocation, $14 million will be used to increase the capacity of the circuit court system to begin to reduce the backlog of cases. The funding will create five new criminal courts and a pilot program expanding operations for two courtrooms into the evening on one or two nights each week.

“The governor’s decision to fund our extended and expanded court operations and mental health treatment court is so critical and timely,” said Chief Judge Triggiano.

Triggiano said that COVID-19 exposure and illness among everyone from court staff to witnesses, victims and litigants slowed down the operations of the court system. There have also been a record number of retirements and hiring delays putting a squeeze on staffing, she said.

“In our community, continuing instability has significantly affected safety, increased the number of people in our court system with criminal charges, exacerbated mental health, escalated the number of evictions, led to court backlogs, and an ever increasing number of people in custody,” she said.

Crowley said the state funding is greatly needed and that it will support a “crucial cross-section of county needs.”

“This is a pandemic that has exacerbated generational inequities,” the county executive said. “And these are inequities that have led us to see what we’re seeing recently, when we think about the crises in mental and behavioral health, or the overdose deaths that we see, and the violence.”

Johnson said the response to rising violence and reckless driving requires “solid law enforcement.” But that wasn’t the only solution to the problem, the acting mayor said. “We can make our streets safer with physical improvements, we can invest in prevention as well as intervention,” he noted. “We can tap into the knowledge and cooperation that our residents here in this community have to offer.”

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