MPD Needs To Add 11 Officers Says Staffing Study
But police department also needs to create 116 new civilian positions, reallocate officers.
There is no shortage of debate within City Hall about a consultant’s recommendations that the Milwaukee Police Department substantially reallocate officers to different areas of the city and drastically expand the number of civilian personnel within the department.
The recommendations are part of a 206-page report from California-based Matrix Consulting Group that was intended to determine the ideal staffing levels for the department.
Matrix produced two hard numbers for the city: hire 11 more sworn officers and add 116 civilian community service officer positions.
The figures would give MPD a sworn strength of 1,668 officers and increase the number of community officers by more than 11 times the current staffing level.
But the pathway to getting there isn’t as easy as increasing the budget, which already hovers near $300 million.
The recommended figures would be achieved as the net result of dozens of changes to staffing levels, many of which involve replacing sworn officers doing desk-like or investigative jobs with civilian personnel. Such changes in many cases require renegotiating the city’s labor agreement with the Milwaukee Police Association and changing MPD operations.
A Common Council committee spent three hours discussing the recommendations Friday morning. The Fire & Police Commission will have its day with the study on March 2. The Milwaukee Police Department has been reviewing the study since late November.
Using a standard of “proactive time,” Matrix’s report says there are inequities in how officers are dispersed throughout the city’s seven police districts.
“This is some of the most extreme inequity we have ever seen,” said firm vice president Ian Brady on Friday morning’s special meeting of the Public Safety & Health Committee.
The firm found substantial questioning from Alderman Scott Spiker, as well as other council members, and skepticism on the analysis from acting MPD chief of staff Heather Hough and patrol bureau inspector Shannon M. Seymer-Tabaska.
Brady said Matrix recommends “proactive time” to represent 35-to-40% of an officer’s shift. Proactive time is the time an officer is not responding to a call and can instead work on community engagement. Milwaukee’s average is 26%, but it falls as low as 10% in District 4, the city’s far northwest side, and climbs as high as 56% in District 6, which includes virtually all of the city south of Lincoln Avenue. He said the firm compiled the statistics by analyzing staffing levels and MPD dispatch logs.
“It can’t be denied those districts serve areas of much less people of color,” said Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa of Matrix’s report that District 1, which includes Downtown and the East Side, and District 6 have the greatest amount of proactive time currently.
“We are absolutely going to address it,” said Seymer-Tabaska.
But the inspector said those areas already have fewer officers as part of a quarterly rebalancing process. The district assigns 9% of its staffing to District 1, 9% to District 6, 14% to District 2 (near south side), 14% to District 4, and 18% each to districts 3, 5 and 7 (roughly between W. Hampton Ave. and Interstate 94).
Seymer-Tabaska said the uneven distribution is because of the type and volume of crime that occurs. District 1 and 6 experience more property crime while the other districts experience higher levels of crimes with firearms and other violence.
Spiker questioned why Matrix would propose taking even more officers away from areas that already have fewer.
But part of Matrix’s study recommends increasing the number of crimes that can be reported online, particularly property crimes, and replacing sworn officers with civilian personnel to respond to other incidents.
Hough said a now-long-awaited new dispatching system would do a better job of assigning officers across district lines. And could change the resulting performance metrics.
Spiker drilled into the use of proactive time as a metric. Why not just use response time or calls for service?
“There is a direct relationship between the two,” said firm president Richard Brady. But he expressed caution on overreliance on response time. “You shouldn’t look at your police department officers just as responders.” He cited concerns about burnout, turnover and the need to build relationships.
Spiker said that then begged the question of whether the use of proactive time was putting the cart before the horse, and MPD needed to ensure what was happening during that proactive time.
He said he wanted to see a plan for what is to be done during “proactive time.” Richard Brady said the report contained recommendations.
“We definitely come across this a lot,” said Ian Brady when asked if the amount of questioning they were getting is normal.
Hough said aren’t any areas of the report MPD was saying “no” to. But she said it’s a matter of identifying what areas to prioritize.
Part of that comes with what areas the department can execute with the resources and control it has.
Civilianization of MPD’s Operations
Displaying a list of similarly-sized cities, Ian Brady said Milwaukee is an outlier regarding civilianization. “Milwaukee had the second lowest percentage of civilians as a percentage of total staffing,” he said.
A number of council members have long seen community service officers (CSO) as a pathway to improving policing in Milwaukee, but they’ve struggled to get a successive list of chiefs to embrace the non-sworn position. Chief Jeffrey Norman has backed the idea since taking office in late 2021 and fiscal realities are now pushing the issue.
The civilian personnel are not part of the Milwaukee Police Association’s bargaining agreement, and as such are not subject to automatic wage increases, higher pension costs and earlier retirements.
But Hough said converting to civilian roles in many positions isn’t simple, or immediately cost-effective.
“Civilianization is an investment up front for savings down the road,” she said. The department currently has only 10 CSOs, because it keeps losing them when its recruiting police classes open.
“We are just starting small with what’s within our capacity,” said assistant chief Nicole Waldner. But it will need to drastically scale up the effort.
If MPD balks at the civilianization effort, it would need to add 113 sworn officers instead of 11 to reach Matrix’s targets.
The report estimates MPD could respond to 9% of its calls for service with unarmed CSOs. The district had approximately 272,000 calls for service in 2022.
Hough said efforts are already underway to replace analyst positions at each district with comparable civilian roles.
“For those of you who have been here forever, you’ve seen this song and dance many times before over a variety of chiefs,” said Spiker, whose predecessor Terry Witkowski started the push. Spiker said he liked Matrix’s suggestions regarding civilianization and hoped Norman would remain committed to the idea.
“Chief Norman, and the Milwaukee Police Department, is committed to operational efficiency,” said Hough.
But anytime MPD wants to replace a position identified in its labor agreement with a civilian role it will need to bargain with the union. Such is the case with the Forensics Division.
“The Forensics Division is basically made up of sworn personnel that have specific titles listed within the bargaining agreement,” said labor negotiator Nicole Fleck. She said the city is working to ensure the civilianization issue doesn’t get bogged down in a larger debate over the new agreement. “We are currently bargaining that outside of contract negotiations.”
MPA did not respond to a request for comment on the Matrix study, but MPD officials confirmed they were previously provided with the study.
“We have a very long road of us to figure out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it because we have to figure out what’s right for our citizens,” said council president José G. Pérez.
No Case Management System?
One revelation during Friday’s meeting was the lack of a case management system to oversee detective workloads.
“It is really important to have this kind of unified approach,” said Ian Brady.
Waldner said the city purchased a different IT system that was expected to include case management support, but doesn’t.
Inspector Paul Lough said the city instead relies on an aging Microsoft Sharepoint system and can’t export data from it.
“My concern that we don’t have this in place means we don’t the capacity to solve crimes,” said Zamarripa.
“It would help us to be more efficient,” said Lough.
“It can range from under $100,000 for a database management system to something much more robust [and expensive],” said Richard Brady.
But MPD had a much larger figure: $8 million. Comments about it from the MPD representatives indicated it would include a replacement of the city’s existing police records system in addition to case management.
An additional review of MPD’s management needs is planned for April said Lough.
One new technology feature is going well, though no one could quickly explain where to find it online Friday. Since launching in October, MPD has accepted 718 online crime reports. Seymer-Tabaska said that figure could eventually grow to encompass 5% of all calls for service, approximately 13,600 calls in 2022.
Zamarripa credited the 2020 debate on a federal policing grant for triggering the study, and bringing these issues forward.
Fire & Police Commission Leon W. Todd, III said he would like MPD representatives to bring more detailed responses to why they would use different metrics than proactive time or prioritize different aspects of the report at the commission’s upcoming March 2 meeting.
“If you’re not going to use this as a guide, there should be a good reason why not,” said Todd.
Council members said they would like to hear regular updates on the implementation of the report.
A copy of the study is available on Urban Milwaukee.
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Related Legislation: File 221673