MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee police say Thursday night’s officer-involved shooting started with the pursuit of a reckless driver.
Several efforts are underway to address Milwaukee’s recent surge in reckless driving incidents. Some initiatives like reconstructing roads could be costly, but city leaders believe the investment is needed.
Reckless driving can be spotted on Milwaukee streets day or night on busy roads and often spills into neighborhoods.
"To see some of these senseless acts, the behavior is really truly reckless, it is frustrating,” said Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman.
The biggest frustration for Chief Norman is the amount of people dying from an avoidable problem.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office recorded 107 traffic fatalities in 2020, a sharp increase from 80 in 2019. So far this year, Milwaukee police say 40 people have died in car crashes in the city of Milwaukee alone. Despite MPD’s reckless driving enforcement efforts, Chief Norman knows his resources are limited.
“The Traffic Safety Unit is a unit that has a prime directive of interacting and impacting reckless driving, but there's only so much we can spread around,” Chief Norman said.
Alderman Michael Murphy chairs the City-County Reckless Driving Task Force. He’s spent countless hours over the past few years brainstorming solutions that have been broken down into three categories: enforcement, education and engineering.
"The carnage you see on our streets is just as bad as somebody taking a gun out and shooting somebody,” Murphy said.
Alderman Murphy and Mayor Tom Barrett are pushing to spend $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds that have already been allocated to the city to reconstruct roads with speed bumps, barriers and more.
“We've seen many people who use the bike lanes to pass people. Well, they won't be able to do that because they're going to hit directly into a concrete barrier,” Murphy said.
Given that $5 million only stretches so far, Murphy says it could be used to re-engineer 25 miles of Milwaukee’s most notorious streets.
"We have gone before and looked at the before and after to measure the results, and we've seen a significant reduction in speeding and in accidents,” he said.
Alderman Murphy says the educational approach is less costly but takes just as much time. Around 20 community organizations are taking their own paths to send the message. Some are going door-to-door to have conversations. Others like the Coalition for Safe Driving MKE are putting signs in yards and on billboards and transit buses.
“Is it working? We know we still have reckless driving, we know we still have a lot of work to do,” said Celia Jackson.
Kweku TeAngelo Cargile Jr. leads Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention’s reckless driving efforts. He says the focus needs to be on people ages 17 to 21 since data shows they account for the most arrests and citations for carjackings and reckless driving crashes.
“We recognize that age group is really opportunity youth,” Cargile Jr. said.
When it comes to accountability, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm says something needs to be done to identify and change the behaviors of juvenile offenders who haven’t learned from past mistakes. He says minors are sometimes released without an appropriate penalty or corrective action.
"One of the concepts I would really like us to embrace would be having a one stop location for any kid that encounters the Milwaukee Police Department or is encountering any kind of problem at all, that we'd start being able to do that assessment right away and not waiting until they end up not being the passenger, but the driver,” District Attorney Chisholm said.
It remains unclear when the Common Council will vote on a measure that would dedicate more than $6 million in federal money toward reckless driving solutions, but Alderman Murphy is confident is will be approved.