By Ryan J. Owens
Things are worrisome in Wisconsin.
In our communities and on our streets, crime is on the rise and a culture of crime is thinning our blue line. Disrespect for law enforcement is becoming normalized. Attorney General Josh Kaul’s disastrous leadership and reckless policies have made Wisconsin more dangerous.
Wisconsin needs to make crime criminal again.
Wisconsin needs a new Attorney General.
Sadly, Wisconsin has become more dangerous. Our family and friends are more likely to be murdered today than in recent years. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, Wisconsin’s homicide rates are increasing faster than many other places in the country. Homicides in Madison grew by 100 percent over the previous year. Homicides in Milwaukee grew by 85 percent. Green Bay, historically a safe city, experienced a doubling of homicides.
Emblematic of the fear many people feel today are random attacks like the one Wesley Brice committed. Last March in Green Bay, the 22-year old Brice reached through the car window and stabbed a 70-year old man to death, without any provocation, as the elderly gentleman simply and peaceably waited in his car for a train to pass.
Other crimes also are increasing. The Milwaukee Police Department reports that motor vehicle theft is up 194 percent from 2020 levels. Madison saw similar increases, with a 21 percent increase in burglaries and a 47 percent increase in stolen vehicles.
Not coincidentally, this growing culture of crime has arrived at the same time our police are leaving the profession in droves with fewer and fewer recruits to take their places. According to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, law enforcement agencies nationally saw an 18 percent increase in resignations over last year and a 45 percent increase in retirements—largely due to the hostility they face. Recruitment is down. Even the New York Times had to admit that “many cities are…finding it harder to attract recruits.”
Wisconsin is becoming more dangerous because of poor leadership and bad policies from Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Reflect on Kaul’s absent leadership during last summer’s lawlessness in Kenosha. While Kenosha burned, Kaul whistled past the graveyard. He failed to go to Kenosha to tamp down the violence. He failed to ask for calm when it mattered. And he failed to stand up for law enforcement. His inaction told law enforcement that he did not care about them. It told those who would break the law that the state would not hold them accountable. And it told the rest of us that Kaul’s priorities are not to keep Wisconsin safe.
Kaul had an opportunity recently to show support for law enforcement at the Law Enforcement Memorial service in Madison but, again, he chose to disrespect them. He refused to speak in support of the fallen. (Of course, he did speak back in 2019, when hating the police was not yet a left-wing battle cry.) And even as protestors shouted vulgar epithets at the police and families of the fallen, Kaul sat in stone-faced silence.
Kaul has awarded grants to groups that are openly hostile to law enforcement and that have called for police defunding. One of those groups recently declared its “desire to dismantle systems of white supremacy that create racial inequities and perpetuate systemic racism, especially within the criminal justice system.” The same group declared that Ohio police officer Nicholas Reardon “murdered” Ma’Khia Bryant because he shot her as she was trying to kill another girl with a butcher knife. By all reasonable accounts, Reardon saved lives that day.
People notice when the Attorney General associates with such groups.
What’s more, Kaul recently decided to withdraw the state crime lab from the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), a federal program designed to help investigators link together multiple crimes that involve a single gun. Put simply, it allows police to match a gun used in one crime with a gun used in another, possibly unsolved, crime. The NIBIN program can also help track the flow of illegal firearms used in gang activity and drug trafficking.
That program could help bring criminals to justice. According to one study, the NIBIN program helped Boston improve its ballistics matches by a factor of six. But Kaul pulled the state crime lab from the program. His actions made it harder for law enforcement to solve and prevent crimes.
The criminal litigation unit at the Department of Justice under Kaul’s watch has seen massive numbers of departures. At least 13 attorneys have departed, leaving less than 10 Assistant Attorneys General from former Attorney General Brad Schimel’s tenure. With record numbers of homicides in the state, these departures, and the culture that led to them, is devastating.
Law enforcement deserves better. Our communities deserve better. Our children and the most vulnerable among us deserve better. Josh Kaul does not deserve re-election.
It’s time for a new Attorney General.
Ryan J. Owens is an attorney, a constitutional conservative, a professor, and the former director of the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a Republican candidate for attorney general in Wisconsin.