Milwaukee Common Council
Press Release

Another Step in a 1,000-mile Journey

Joint statement from members of the Milwaukee Common Council: Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, Alderman Cavalier Johnson, Alderman Nik Kovac, Alderman Robert J. Bauman, Alderman Mark Borkowski and Alderman José G. Pérez

By - Jan 20th, 2021 01:17 pm

The relationship between the City of Milwaukee’s Police Department and the people it is intended to serve has often been difficult. Ours is not the first generation to struggle with the excessive use of force, racial discrimination, sworn officers doing jobs that ought to be done by civilians, and the unbearable long-term cost of our protective services. It may be, however, that this moment, our moment, is one where the reality of the coming pension crisis and the urgent demands of our community finally come together to compel the first difficult steps towards something better.

That is how we see the commitment made by Police Chief Jeffrey Norman and his command staff in the attached letter to the Common Council. Consider what is written there:

*The department commits itself to a “right-sizing” process, using performance based metrics to determine how many sworn officers this community needs. And it has agreed to do it under the guidance of a professional study like the well-regarded “Matrix” inquiry of several years ago. In all the debate surrounding the department, no one has proven able or willing to state, with evidence, how many sworn officers this community needs. This is too great a variable to be left unsolved for and finding the correct answer will require the full cooperation of the department, something that could not be counted on with past administrations.

This also relates directly to the need to replace sworn officers with civilian employees. Not only because the latter tend to be more affordable, but because there are certain tasks that can be done just as well or better by someone who isn’t a trained, sworn police officer. Too often, this department has had only a hammer as a tool so it thinks every problem is a nail. Trauma-informed care, violence prevention, culturally-aware intervention, are all approaches to reducing violence and improving public safety that should be given to those trained in these fields, not in law enforcement. This is a real chance to evaluate these possibilities as well.

*The letter commits the department to continuing and improving its community-based policing efforts. Its community-oriented policing S.O.P. is expected in the near future and, perhaps even more significantly, there is a written commitment to working with the Community Collaborative Commission to shape long-term policies driven by public input. This is a level of transparency that, intentionally or not, the MPD has too often lacked. Seeing it turn itself outward to the public would be a welcome change.

*The letter commits the department to working to reduce response times, not by simply adding new police officers, but by exploiting technology to make response more efficient and investing in violence-prevention strategies that make calling the police less necessary. The 2021 budget transfers a large portion of the Technical Communications Division to a different department in the hope of better integrating it with the City’s technology infrastructure and improve not only call times, but the analysis of police dispatching and deployment.

*The letter commits the department to continue its deployments to the Promise Zones, areas of the community that greatly benefitted from a familiar, community-focused, police presence in previous years. The work in these neighborhoods has produced grassroots-inspired programs like SafeZones – a local version of a violence interruption strategy that has been adopted and expanded in the Office of Violence Prevention’s “414 Life” program. MPD’s role is often crucial in creating collaborations that yield results for the community. Partnerships like this have been readily forgotten as one administration is replaced by another and seeing a commitment to this collaborative platform reduced to writing by MPD leadership is encouraging.

*And the letter commits the department to continuing and improving its efforts in the area of traffic enforcement. The recommendations of the Reckless Driving Taskforce outline a role for education, infrastructure improvements, and enforcement. If quality of life policing has any meaning it surely includes ridding our streets of reckless drivers who take so much in terms of property damage and lives. Even more, though, the department will work towards preventing reckless behaviors before they become criminal and even fatal. As the city’s first line of defense in this regard, the public should know about their efforts to address this consuming issue.

Are these all the things that we hope to see in the relationship between the Milwaukee Police Department and this community? Of course not.

This agreement, however, if updated, communicated, and earnestly pursued, could represent the first, tentative steps of a journey by which Milwaukee walks away from the fraught history of its relationship with its police department and becomes an example of a better way forward.

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