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Former OVP director Arnitta Holliman responds to her firing: 'unwarranted and unprofessional'

We learned on Aug. 3 that the mayor's office had suddenly fired Holliman. On Monday we are hearing for the first time from Holliman, who served as director for 14 months.
Posted at 9:47 AM, Aug 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 09:39:44-04

MILWAUKEE — The just-fired director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention, Arnitta Holliman, says her dismissal by the mayor's office was "unwarranted and unprofessional" amid spiraling levels of gun violence in the city.

[Watch her response in the video at the top of this report]

We learned on Aug. 3 that the mayor's office had suddenly fired Holliman. On Monday we are hearing for the first time from Holliman, who served as director for 14 months.

She writes in a statement that the mayor's chief of staff informed her of her firing, and that her two supervisors - Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson - were not present nor have they reached out to her since then.

RELATED: Ald. Ashanti Hamilton appointed director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention

Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention was given more than $16 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. The statement announcing her firing earlier this month highlighted that "looking forward, we want those new resources effectively deployed to make Milwaukee safer."

Holliman addressed that concern in her statement on Monday, writing that "scapegoating an office of less than 10 staff members and that currently receives no city tax-levy funding is not only ill-informed, but dangerous."

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

"It arranges a measure that all but guarantees failure for the next Director and OVP for the foreseeable future. A public health approach to violence prevention involves cross-sector partnerships that require support and investment. Unfortunately, OVP has never received adequate investment from the city, and for the past six years has had to pursue grants outside of city funding to support and sustain our work," according to Holliman.

Holliman continued that as director, she "experienced significant challenges" from Mayor Johnson's Office and Commissioner Johnson. She says her requests for support went unaddressed and she criticized the mayor's decision to shift the OVP's budget source from the city tax levy to American Rescue Plan (federal COVID-19 relief package) dollars.

"Once those funds run out, OVP will not have guaranteed funding and the State ARPA OVP received was not intended to support existing operations," she argues.

A public health approach to solving violence

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 compared to last year.

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."

Read Holliman's statement below:

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