MILWAUKEE — How should local governments allocate the historic amount of money they're getting from President Biden's American Rescue Plan? The stakes are high. The City of Milwaukee is getting nearly $400 million. But many departments are vying for a piece of it.
This funding represents the largest jolt to the city's budget in decades, and it needs to be deployed quickly and smartly.
It's no secret Milwaukee is dealing with many challenges right now. One of them is rising crime. That's why Milwaukee Acting Police Chief Jeffrey Norman sent a letter to city leaders, detailing how important it is for the city to some of the funding to pay for 195 more officers. But not everyone agrees with doing that.
In the letter, Norman says the Milwaukee Police Department lost 180 officers over the past two years. Twenty-five more are projected to leave this year, as demand for police services increases.
The numbers Norman gives are striking. Auto thefts have increased 174 percent since last year. Non-fatal shootings are up 27 percent. Homicides are up four percent from last year, which saw a city record of 190.
And though calls for service keep increasing, Norman says police response time has slowed by 10 percent due to staffing challenges.
Norman says it doesn't matter where the funding comes from, just as long as it makes way for 195 new officers.
But Milwaukee's Finance and Personnel committee voted Friday not to use American Rescue Plan funding to hire those officers.
"There have been voices, not just in the council, but in the community as well, that had some concerns about using these federal dollars to pay for police officers," said Common Council President Cavalier Johnson.
The committee opted instead to fund other violence prevention efforts.
But, since the American Rescue Plan will help cover other city costs, Johnson says they can hire all needed police officers through the city's budget process.
"I've already submitted a budget amendment in order to do that," Johnson said.
But a budget amendment will still require a vote by the full common council.
"I'm confident we'll have the votes to get those 195 officers, although I'm not sure it will be unanimous," said Alderman Mike Murphy.
If MPD does not get 195 officers, Norman says the department will have to restructure, which could include: Eliminating Police District One downtown, the Traffic Safety Unit, the Office of Community Outreach and Education, and/or the Horse Patrol.
Plus, they'd have to consider reducing the police presence at The Sojourner Family Peace Center, the Specialized Investigations Divisions, and the Fusion Center, which monitors security cameras.
"Those impacts are unacceptable to me, and I think to the vast majority of the citizens of Milwaukee," Ald. Murphy said. "It's up to the public too. What they feel on the issue of more police officers, and they should share their sentiments with their elected representatives."
The debate is not over. The Finance and Personnel Committee's decisions regarding American Rescue Plan funding still have to be approved by the full common council.
The city's budget needs to be finalized by Nov. 5.
Read the letter below: