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Mayor fires Director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention

The change in leadership comes at a time when Milwaukee is seeing record homicide rates.
Arnitta Holliman
Posted at 2:05 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 23:12:27-04

MILWAUKEE — The director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention (OVP)), Arnitta Holliman, will no longer serve in the position, the city announced Wednesday.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson's Chief of Staff, Jim Bohl, said in a statement that the city informed Holliman that her "appointment... has concluded."

Bohl said the change in leadership is part of an effort to effectively use the millions of dollars the Office of Violence Prevention has received.

"It is the administration’s intent to continue the work underway in the violence prevention office, while, at the same time, increasing the office’s responsiveness to changing demands and expectations in public safety," according to Bohl.

“Over the past year, additional millions of dollars have been directed to the Office of Violence Prevention through the State of Wisconsin, city resources, and philanthropic sources. Looking forward, we want those new resources effectively deployed to make Milwaukee safer," said Bohl.

A successor was not named on Wednesday.

Holliman began serving in the role in May of 2021. She filled in for Reggie Moore, who left the department in April of 2021 to lead the Violence Prevention Policy Engagement department at the Medical College of Wisconsin's Comprehensive Injury Center.

>> Is Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention helping reduce crime? Some say no

Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention was given more than $11 million in federal Covid relief funds by the city and the state. Some in the community have wondered if the city is seeing a return on that investment after violent crime has only increased.

Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention launched 14 years ago as another way for the city to cut down on shootings and save lives. Its annual budget is $3.7 million, but that’s before American Rescue Plan Act funds came into play. It’s getting $8.4 million from the state and another $3 million from the city’s allocation over five years.

Alderman Michael Murphy is part of the Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee, which discussed OVP's $5.6 million budget back in June.

Murphy says like everyone, he wants to see crime go down. He said blame can't all fall on OVP. He said he wants to establish metrics or some way to evaluate the office's work.

"Let's look at kids who have been found in stolen cars under the age of 15," Murphy said. "You could evaluate by finding them resources, maybe some wrap-around services, counseling, both for them and their family. And then evaluate whether in a year's time have they been found in another stolen vehicle."

The change in leadership comes at a time when Milwaukee is seeing record homicide rates. Homicides shattered records in 2020 and 2021. Milwaukee police data shows homicides are up 35 percent so far in 2022.

OVP partners with dozens of community organizations. Some of those who have long worked with OVP say what people aren't seeing is all the work the office is doing to prevent violence.

"I am shocked and concerned," said Vaun Mayes, the founder of Community Task Force.

He pointed out the work OVP has done in Sherman Park.

"As you see, it is very quiet here. That wasn't initially how it was. But they were part of bringing those calls down, which were up to five service calls a day, down to pretty much zero," Mayes said.

Mayes says whoever leads the office next is very important.

"That matters. Hugely, it matters," Mayes said. "If that's somebody who has not built these relationships that have already been built, if that is not someone who is familiar with the landscape and the things that have happened in the past six years now, it's going to set everyone back."

Efforts to reach Holliman on Wednesday were not successful.

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