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Milwaukee alders want Office of Violence Prevention to prove through data that funding is making a difference

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 19:25:31-04

MILWAUKEE — Several Milwaukee city leaders say they want to see proof through data and outcomes that the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) is making an impact on crime with its $5.6 million budget.

"I guess I'm looking for some help as to how we set a homicide record two years ago, we broke the homicide record last year, and we are 30 homicides ahead of the record breaking this year, and so I'm trying to find that hope,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski.

Given this year’s crime trends, Alderman Borkowski says he’s not seeing positive results coming out of the programs the Office of Violence Prevention is currently funding or managing. He joined several other alders on the Public Safety and Health Committee, like Michael Murphy, who want to see evidence of progress.

"It's very important that when we fund programs like that, we look at evaluating that to determine whether they're successful or not,” Alderman Murphy said. “If they're not successful then you discontinue them, if they are successful then you really support them."

Alderman Murphy requested OVP present outcomes-based data Thursday on the programs it funds. He says one of those programs called 414 Life, which focuses on shootings in neighborhoods with high crime rates, is on the right track by having an an expert compile data on its effectiveness. He says several other programs funded by OVP only shared who they’re meeting with and when. Alderman Murphy laid out his expectations moving forward.

"Looking at before and after, whether or not they're having an increased number of non fatal shootings, whether or not there's more increase in homicides,” he said. “The people they have direct contact with, have they re-offended and committed additional crimes, has the community been asked through surveys whether or not they feel safer in their community and is violence reduced?”

A TMJ4 open records request found that OVP’s operating budget this year is $5.6 million, which is much larger compared to the past two years thanks to allocations from the state and city’s federal Covid relief funds.

The records provided by the Milwaukee Health Department show $1.4 million of OVP’s budget goes to employee salaries and benefits.

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The rest goes towards funding a variety of programs that address different types of crime prevention. OVP Director Arnitta Holliman says their efforts address shootings, domestic violence and youth programming just to name a few.

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I do think it's fair to ask for an evaluation of a program and so to ask for the 414 Life program to be evaluated is definitely fair and I've been on board since day one in terms of having additional metrics,” she said. “What's not fair is OVP being held solely accountable for either a spike or a reduction in crime in the city when we are one portion of the solution or the response."

Alders say the city is facing challenging financial years ahead with the scheduled increase in the city’s pension contributions. TMJ4 asked Holliman if she’s concerned OVP’s budget could be cut if her office is unable to provide the positive outcomes in crime trends city leaders are looking for.

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Holliman responded, “Our funding has consistently been questioned, even when we were in a downturn in terms of violence so I think that's important to note, right? What is the real question, and without violence prevention, without our office, without our work, what is the plan in terms of addressing violence from a prevention standpoint?”

The Medical College of Wisconsin is currently evaluating the effectiveness of 414 Life’s efforts. The organization is getting more than half a million dollars from the Office of Violence Prevention this year. The Medical College is expected to report back to city leaders this fall with their findings.

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