MILWAUKEE — Another violent weekend in Milwaukee leaves more than a dozen people shot and two others stabbed. Just three weeks into the job, Milwaukee’s new Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) Director, Ashanti Hamilton, says he’s learning quickly that it can be difficult and draining work.
In a one-on-one interview with TMJ4 News, Hamilton says he was appointed to the new role to be an agent for change and he knows the expectations are high.
"Our measurement shouldn't be the rise and fall of crime statistics, our measurement should be whether or not we are serving the people who live in their different communities and whether or not they see their community as safer,” he said.
Hamilton says OVP has two primary goals. First, to get out ahead of crime and prevent it from happening. Second, to help victims and their families recover from the trauma.
In the short term, Hamilton is focused on making sure OVP is fully staffed. He says it currently has five employees and the office is budgeted to have 15.
"With more hands, we can reach more communities and we can implement more programs,” he said.
Milwaukee police say 16 people were shot since Friday night, two of whom were teenagers. Gun violence against people ages 17 and younger has climbed to new heights in 2022 while the city is closing in on a third straight year of record-high homicides.
"We have to make a commitment to go further upstream,” he said. “I think there's a lot of work that we can do to give families and communities more support before they have to deal with a situation like this and I think that's the whole goal of looking at this from a public health perspective is being able to gather the information that's necessary for us to be able to be effective in identifying and predicting where these type of events are happening."
Some alders have raised questions about whether OVP is capable of preventing violence under its current structure. They also question whether its funding is truly making an impact. Hamilton says they have a reason to be skeptical.
“We should embrace the skepticism,” he said. "I would like to provide them with the evidence that's necessary to show the impact of this work and I want to be honest with them about the limitations of it. Unless it's invested in properly."
This year, OVP has a budget of $5.6 million dollars. A TMJ4 open records request through Milwaukee’s Health Department found that $4.2 million of OVP’s budget funds outside programs that actually do the prevention work. Hamilton says that’s how the office was designed to operate and he doesn’t plan to change that.
"One of the goals of this office is to convene and guide our partners in the direction of a public health response to violence in our community,” he said. "We are not primarily a service provider as an office. What we're doing is identifying the service providers that exist in our community that can best deliver the types of things we want to see done."
Hamilton says he wants to build more partnerships with programs and organizations who are committed to reducing crime across the city. He believes that mindset could ultimately put a greater focus on reducing the number of victims and culprits of violence.
But Hamilton says partnering programs that receive city funding should expect more accountability under his watch.
“That is my goal,” he said. “I think that's one of the reasons why both the administration and the council supported this move is because they do want to see more accountability. They want somebody here that understands what they are looking for and it is my goal to be able to deliver to that.”