MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) is being given more than $11 million in federal Covid relief funds by the city and the state, but some in the community wonder if the city is seeing a return on that investment after more than 20 people were shot in the city over the weekend.
"I don't think Office of Violence Prevention has even made a dent in trying to prevent the violence that's going on in Milwaukee,” community advocate Tory Lowe said.
With violent crime and homicides going up each year of the pandemic in Milwaukee, Lowe is critical of the Office of Violence Prevention’s efforts, especially now that its funding is being bolstered.
"When you have areas that have a lot of violence and crime, you've got to roll up your sleeves, get directly involved and build a bridge with the community to help them fight against what they're dealing with in the neighborhoods,” he said.
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.
"We cannot be at every place at the same time,” Office of Violence Prevention Director Arnitta Holliman said. “We cannot fund everything in the community."
Holliman has been the OVP director for the past year, overseeing eight employees with three current job vacancies, according to the Milwaukee Health Department.
When asked if she believes the Office of Violence Prevention is preventing violence, given the current crime rates, Holliman responded, “Absolutely, violence is being prevented. Those are the stories that are not reported and so I hold the media as responsible as community members who need to step up.”
Holliman says OVP uses a public health approach to prevent violence by being in the neighborhoods that are seeing the most shootings in the city. She says that’s in addition to youth and young adult programming that promote safe ways to resolve conflicts.
Holliman says the targeted approach includes proactive outreach to residents, neighbors and business partners in crime-ridden areas. It also means having its partner, 414 Life, respond to mediate conflicts in real-time to stop shootings before they happen or even afterward to prevent retaliation.
"A part of the expansion funds that we received from the city in the $3 million for expansion, again will be spent over a time period ,so through 2026, which will help with expanding the team in size, but also we are expanding our efforts onto the south side,” she said.
Governor Tony Evers allocated $25 million to violence prevention efforts across the state late last year. Milwaukee got a third of that amount.
"The violence that we saw in Milwaukee this weekend is absolutely unacceptable,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul told TMJ4 News.
A.G. Kaul says he believes violence prevention is a strategy that works.
"The sooner that those funds get used the better,” he said. “I do know there are folks who are out there working to disrupt violence and that is part what we need to do."
TMJ4 News reached out to the Milwaukee Health Department, which oversees the Office of Violence Prevention, to find out exactly how much OVP’s budget is for this year given the federal Covid relief funds, but we have yet to receive that information.