Steven Walters
The State of Politics

The Actual Stats Behind Wisconsin’s Polarizing Crime Ads

Rhetoric and reality don't line up statewide, but Milwaukee County is an outlier.

By - Oct 17th, 2022 12:50 pm
Crime Scene Tape. (CC0 Public Domain)

Crime Scene Tape. (CC0 Public Domain)

Behind the “soft on crime” narrative that dominates emotional campaign ads for Republican candidates for governor and U.S. Senate are two statistics that put those allegations in context:

First, uniform crimes reported by local law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin went up only 0.4% between 2020 and 2021.

Second, crimes local law enforcement agencies reported went down in 53 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties in that one-year period – a downturn that included Kenosha County, where riots broke out in 2020.

Milwaukee County and Kenosha are the faces of the “soft on crime” charges dominating the campaigns of Republican Tim Michels for governor and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who is seeking a third six-year term.

Michels and Johnson are running against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second four-year term, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, trying to unseat Johnson.

Uniform crime statistics show just how much Milwaukee County is an outlier in a state where the numbers of major crimes increased slightly or dropped between 2020 and ‘21.

For example, state reports say the total number of 11 specific crimes reported in Milwaukee County jumped by 17% – from 45,822 in 2020 to 53,710 in 2021 – in one year. And the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s count of murders in the city so far this year was 183 on Friday, far ahead of last year’s pace.

Other crimes-reported totals for Milwaukee County between 2020 and ‘21 included a decrease in rapes, from 574 to 550; robberies fell from 2,172 to 2,070; aggravated assaults decreased from 7,394 to 7,434 and burglaries dropped from 4,172 to 3,451.

Republican Party leaders, the campaigns of Michels and Johnson and third-party groups supporting Johnson continue to hammer Evers and Barnes as “soft on crime.”

“Wisconsin is a crime-filled state,” says Maddie Anderson, of the Republican Governors Association, recounting recent violent crimes in Milwaukee that included the shooting death of a 12-year-old girl.

“Under Gov. Evers, cold-blooded killers and child rapists know they can commit their crimes, serve a little time and be set free into Wisconsin’s communities,” Anderson adds.

Context is also helpful here.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the state Parole Commission granted 460 discretionary paroles since Evers took office in January 2019. But the Commission granted 650 paroles during the two terms of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and more than 23,000 during the four terms of former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, the newspaper said.

In a news release, state Republican Party officials say, “When Ron [Johnson] pushes back against Mandela Barnes, he’s really pushing against releasing 50% of Wisconsin’s prison population [and] ending cash bail.”

A campaign ad for Michels says Evers “let Kenosha burn” after 2020 rioting.

State reports say the number of reported crimes dropped in Kenosha County by 9% between 2020 and ‘21, although the number of homicides went from eight to 16, the number of rapes jumped from 66 to 109 and aggravated assaults went from 348 to 361. Fewer robberies (101 to 34) and burglaries (291 to 240) were reported.

In Waukesha County, where Darrell Brooks is on trial for the 2020 Christmas parade tragedy that killed six and injured more than 60, the number of crimes reported by law enforcement agencies decreased from 4,482 in 2020 to 4,162 in 2021. That’s a 7% drop.

Waukesha County’s one-year changes included a drop in murders from nine to six, rapes increased from 69 to 81, robberies decreased from 52 to 34, aggravated assaults fell from 197 to 154 and burglaries slowed from 303 to 190.

Crime statistics for other Milwaukee-area counties:

  • Racine County: Total crimes reported decreased from 4,071 in 2020 to 3,278 in ‘21. Homicides increased from three to nine, rapes decreased from 62 to 44, robberies dropped from 105 to 62, aggravated assaults from 399 to 327 and burglaries slowed from 457 to 393.
  • Washington County: Crimes reported dropped from 1,965 in 2020 to 1,545 in ‘21. Homicides rose from one to three, rapes decreased from 35 to 30, robberies slowed from 16 to seven, aggravated assaults dropped from 82 to 69 and burglaries increased from 70 to 73.
  • Ozaukee County: Crimes reported dropped from 858 in 2020 to 579 in ‘21. One murder and seven rapes were reported in each year, robberies increased from three to five, aggravated assaults slowed from 33 to 17 and burglaries fell from 37 to 34.

Barnes and Evers are trying to shift the debate from crime to Johnson’s record on abortion.

Michels “opposes exceptions for victims of rape and incest and stated clearly that … would even apply to 12-year-old rape victims,” said Evers campaign manager Cassi Fenili.

Barnes is also highlighting Johnson’s role in efforts to overturn President Trump’s 2020 election loss. “Johnson wanted to hand deliver a fake slate of electors for Wisconsin,” Barnes said.

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

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One thought on “The State of Politics: The Actual Stats Behind Wisconsin’s Polarizing Crime Ads”

  1. Ryan Cotic says:

    Why is the murder rate so much higher in Milwaukee?

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