MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Police Department faces a third straight year of staff reductions under Mayor Tom Barrett’s 2022 budget proposal.
Mayor Barrett says he plans to use $6 million in federal coronavirus funds to hire and train 195 new officers next year to address a surge in retirements, but additional budget cuts are set to once again shrink the department.
In what’s expected to be Mayor Barrett’s final city budget address, Milwaukee’s long-time leader is proposing another round of cuts for Milwaukee police.
“It is not my intent or my desire to reduce the size of the police department right now,” Mayor Barrett said. “Do I think they have to do things differently? Do I think there have to be reforms? Absolutely, yes. Do I think we should have a decrease? No.”
Mayor Barrett says due to financial realities, he wants the department to operate on about $278 million in 2022. That’s about $16 million less than this year.
Mayor Barrett says that amount would allow the department to have 1,643 sworn law enforcement staff, which is a reduction of about 25 officers.
“I know that reckless driving is a problem in the city of Milwaukee, I know that the violence is too high, I obviously know that,” Mayor Barrett said. “We want to have the resources to address this, but we need to have the [state] legislature as a partner.”
Milwaukee Police Association Acting President Andrew Wagner says the department can’t afford to get any smaller after losing 180 to budget cuts through attrition over the past two years.
“I think it’s frustrating, it’s frustrating to all of the officers out there on the street just trying to get help to work every day,” Wagner said.
With more than 200 department vacancies, Wagner says officers and detectives are already struggling to adequately respond to a sharp increase in violent crime. Milwaukee Police Department data shows the city is on pace to match last year’s record of 190 homicides. Altogether, violent crime is up 36 percent. [Click here to view the police department's crime database].
“I think you’re going to lose the services that you see that matter to people,” Wagner said. “We’ll respond to the violent crime and we’ll respond to those types of crimes, but what’s really affecting the city of Milwaukee is the property crimes. Do they feel safe going home without getting their purse stolen, do they feel safe leaving their car on the street.”
Milwaukee police data shows an average of 28 cars are stolen a day in the city. We’ve seen three times as many cars stolen this year compared to this time last year.
While budget cuts are upsetting to officers, community advocate Torey Lowe believes the size of the police department makes no difference when it comes to reducing crime.
“When people are under duress, when people are uncertain of their future and they don’t have incomes and they don’t have the proper education, this is what’s going to happen,” he said. "This is historically proven and the only way to reduce all of this is to give people the tools of employment, education and good housing and that calms it down.”
The mayor’s budget is subject to amendments by the Common Council. Alders are expected to pass their final version in early November.