Murphy's question is asked in light of the city comptroller's June audit which found Milwaukee has more police per capita than other cities of similar size, nearly twice as many in some cases.
But at what point is some mayor going to put down his or her foot and say that we don’t need more officers, we need to more efficiently use the huge force we already have?
The Forum has been asking this same question for years. During the last mayoral campaign season we issued a series of briefs on vital issues for the city and its next leader: one was focused on the police department.
From our findings:
The City of Milwaukee has long talked of its ability to create efficiencies and eliminate positions. However, in large measure, the Police Department has not been included in attempts to shrink government by cutting positions. Rather, City budgets over the last several years speak of strengthening the efficiency of the City as a whole by eliminating positions while strengthening public safety by adding police positions. As Figure 6 shows, the Police Department has increased its position authority 2.3% since 1994, while the General City Purposes (GCP) budget’s position authority has decreased 8.7%, and the total budget has cut 14.2% of its positions.In addition, we found that the budgeted salaries for the police department increased by 31% between 1994 and 2003, compared to an inflation rate of 23% during that time period.
Unfortunately, despite the increases in police department staff, Milwaukee's crime rate decreased less between 1992 and 2002 than other similar cities nationally. Washington DC, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis...they all reduced crime to a greater extent than Milwaukee over that time period. In addition, our crime clearance rate was lower than in other cities.
Mayor Barrett's proposal isn't novel for Milwaukee and the Forum will continue to monitor the police department's budget. But maybe its time to stop doing the same thing while expecting a different result.
NOTE: The other two briefs in the 2003 vital issues series are also relevant to the current budget deliberations. Brief 1 covered property value trends while Brief 3 analyzed city finances. Updated vital issue briefs will be released this winter.