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Milwaukee Common Council members react to rejection of federal grant for more police officers

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 18:05:16-05

MILWAUKEE — Members of Milwaukee's Common Council are responding after the council rejected accepting $10 million from the federal government to hire 30 more police officers over the next three years.

As TMJ4 News reported, the council voted 9-6 against the federal COPS grant Tuesday, in a break with past votes that accepted the grant.

Council members issued three separate statements to explain why they voted the way they did, and what might come next over how to use the city's police department. The decision is especially heavy following months of protests over police brutality and soaring homicides and other crimes in the City of Milwaukee this year.

You can view how the council members voted on the council's website here.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the nine council members who voted against the COPS grant argued that the debate is not just about hiring 30 more police officers, but about "long-term commitments and generational change."

They argue against the notion that accepting the grant is getting 'free money.' Instead, the council members write that the new officers could become eligible for elevated wages, benefits and pensions, expenses that have led to a "wildly disproportional" share of the city's expenditures. They further argue that lawsuits over police misconduct have cost taxpayers more than $34 million.

More importantly, the council members who voted against the grant argue, is the importance of police reform.

"De-militarization, re-allocation, 'right-sizing,' and a number of other important ideas can be summed up in one word: change," they write.

"People can no longer accept a police department that takes so much and spends what it has in ways that they do not believe truly protect them. They want to see investment in intervention, mental health, de-escalation and non-violent responses to problems," according to their statement.

In their final point, the lawmakers say that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett "knows as well as anyone the challenges the growth of the police department's budget are creating."

"His own remarks yesterday afternoon, then, sounding a good deal more like an unsympathetic state legislator than an advocate for progress in his own City, were intemperate and counterproductive. This sort of posturing benefits no one and only postpones the day on which he and the Common Council can begin to find real paths forward," according to their statement.

Mayor Barrett has voiced his support for accepting the COPS grant, as the council has done in years past.

The previous statement was signed by Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, Alderman Nik Kovac, Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Alderman Khalif J. Rainey, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, Alderman José G. Pérez, Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic and Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II.

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic reiterated the previous statement's remarks in a third statement Wednesday.

It appears the only council member who voted for the grant and also released a statement Wednesday is Robert J. Bauman. [Council President Cavalier Johnson voiced his support for the federal grant in late November, writing in a statement that "turning down federal safety grant could hamstring efforts to curb deadly threats."]

Bauman argues that one of the main reasons he voted for the COPS grant is because he can't see the city hiring new officers by other methods over the next three years. The 2021 budget reduced the number of officers on the force by 120, Bauman contends, but the number of actual sworn officers will be even lower, as 350 officers are eligible to retire over the next three years, and many are likely to do so.

Usually, the department would replace positions left by retirees with new recruits, Bauman says. The cost of hiring those new recruits would usually be in part paid with the COPS grant funds: "a savings for city taxpayers—under the theory that if you have to spend the money anyway, why not accept federal funds to cover part of the cost," he writes.

Bauman acknowledges the concerns over "policing and public safety," writing that the city needs to review and assess police methods and practices. That also includes deciding how many people the police department should be compromised.

"The problem with the Council’s vote to reject the COPS grant is that a majority of the Council has signaled that no new officers will be hired over the next three years, which effectively sets the 'right size' of the MPD at somewhere between 1,300 and 1,400 officers, depending on how many retirement-eligible officers actually retire," according to Bauman.

"I suspect that a majority of our citizens and taxpayers may not be comfortable with that number once they learn the possible effects of such reductions on response times, closure rates, reckless driving and traffic enforcement, quality of life enforcement, and community oriented policing," Bauman writes.

The Common Council is expected to reconvene in January to vote again on the COPS grant.

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