MILWAUKEE — A surge in carjackings has Wisconsin lawmakers looking into sending grant money to cities to help them hire more patrol officers.
Milwaukee police data shows an average of 29 cars were reported stolen each day in 2021. Milwaukee’s police union says the problem is out of control and draining their resources. Some lawmakers believe it’s time for the state to help cities pay for more officers.
“Literally within 45 minutes of my being in Milwaukee, my rental car was stolen,” said Kimberly Motley.
The civil rights attorney lives in North Carolina, but often returns to her hometown of Milwaukee for work. During Motley’s last visit in December, someone stole her rental car downtown.
“I’ve never had a car stolen in my life so I felt extraordinarily violated,” she said.
2021 was a record year for car thefts in Milwaukee with 10,482 reported to police. That’s a 132 percent increase from 2020 when 4,508 cars were reported stolen.
MPD data shows two-thirds of the cars stolen last year were Hyundais or Kias.
"I was calling my other friends and relatives in Milwaukee and everyone's reaction was, ‘why did you rent a Kia?’” Motley said.
The Milwaukee Police Association says it supports a republican-authored bill that would send grant money to Wisconsin towns and cities that are dealing with a surge in auto thefts and carjackings. Police union president Andrew Wagner says the latter often causes a domino effect for more crime.
"They're doing the carjacking and they're going to commit another robbery with the cars they just stole and it's kind of just a circular thing,” he said.
The legislation currently up for debate would send cities like Milwaukee enough funds to pay salaries of new patrol officers for up to four years. Wagner says Milwaukee desperately needs more officers focused on preventing the problem all across the city.
“You’re seeing crime in places I think that’s really affecting people that hadn’t been affected by huge crime before, in areas that people felt safe now are being carjacked in the Third Ward, downtown, people coming in from outside the city that maybe don’t live here and are now questioning, ‘do I come inside the city because of these carjacking surges?’” Wagner said.
As crime rates climb, so too are car insurance rates in Milwaukee. A car insurance comparison website called “The Zebra” says Milwaukee policy holders are seeing an average of a 10 percent rate increase this year.
"Ten percent is pretty staggering,” said Nicole Beck with The Zebra. “The average in America this year, rates were up about 4 percent."
Beck says reckless driving and the large increase in stolen cars are likely large factors behind the insurance rate increases in Milwaukee.
"If there is a carjacking problem that is affecting a huge cohort of people in one or two zip codes or even at a city level, that's a lot of losses and so the insurance companies will raise rates to make up for it,” she said.
So far this year, Milwaukee police say just over 600 cars have been stolen. That’s a slight decrease compared to the same time-frame last year.