By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — When a WiSN reporter recently asked Marina Dimitrijevic what the No. 1 issue facing Milwaukee is, the alderwoman and mayoral candidate without hesitation said, “It’s public safety.”
“We hear it everywhere we go,” she said.
No doubt. Milwaukee is one of the most violent cities in America. Dimitrijevic and her fellow far left mayoral candidates can take a bow for that dubious honor.
In the run-up to Tuesday’s primary election, the same people who actively voted to defund the police — or endorsed as much — are trying to convince Milwaukee voters they’re all about public safety.
Milwaukee Police Association Acting President Andrew Wagner isn’t making any endorsements, but he finds the changing rhetoric interesting. Candidates like Milwaukee Interim Mayor and Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, now insisting on maintaining stable police numbers, have in the past caved to radical groups’ calls to cut policing budgets.
“I have to hope that it’s not empty talk. I hope that maybe they’ve learned the error of their ways two years ago when they cut 120 officer positions, and then another 60. That didn’t work,” Wagner said.
It did not.
Milwaukee recorded a record number of homicides (205) last year, breaking the previous record of 190 the year before. More than 11,500 vehicles were stolen in 2021, nearly as many as Chicago, which has a population 4 1/2 times larger than Milwaukee’s.
Nearly two years after the defund movement swept the nation following high profile, deaths of black Americans at the hands of police officers, cities that bowed to pressure from radical groups are paying a high price in higher crime. Two decades after being hailed as heroes following 9/11, law enforcement was painted as Public Enemy No. 1, not just by fringe liberal activists, but by elected officials.
“Morale is at one of the lowest we’ve ever seen in my 24 years of doing this,” Wagner said. “Our cops are burnt out.”
Wagner said police are accustomed to the slings and arrows that come with the job. But the lack of support from Milwaukee government, the people who are supposed to have their backs, cuts to the bone. So it’s not surprising that the department has seen a dramatic increase in retirements and early departures.
“If someone is close to retirement, that’s all they’re talking about right now,” the union chief said.
Milwaukee’s revolving door criminal justice system has come under greater scrutiny after a Milwaukee man was arrested on charges of driving his SUV into Waukesha’s Christmas parade and mowing down scores of people. Darrell Brooks, Jr., a career violent criminal, was released on a mere $1,000 bail just days before the massacre. He had been in jail on charges of running over the mother of his child with the same SUV he allegedly drove into the parade.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s office recommended the low bail. It’s a recurring theme between the liberal DA and the broken Milwaukee County court system.
Wagner said it’s not just a problem on the violent crime end of the criminal justice spectrum.
“What we see in Milwaukee is if you arrest anyone for a misdemeanor or a nonviolent felony, they’re going to be released right from the district. It’s catch and release,” he said, noting car thefts and other property-related crimes account for the highest number of police calls. “You can’t park your car without it getting stolen, and the people stealing the cars aren’t going to jail.”
Despite the growing threats to public safety, liberals like Johnson are still looking to push funding away from policing and into social programs that sound good but have mixed results at best. Gov. Tony Evers, who has advocated for many of the same progressive policies that have failed in Milwaukee, has prioritized crime prevention programs over adding officers.
Johnson last week signed the paperwork for the $8 million targeted for the Milwaukee initiatives. As of last week, homicides in Milwaukee had already claimed 30 lives on the new year, double the number as the same period in 2021.
Dimitrijevic called Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention and its partnerships with an army of social workers and community activists a “blueprint for peace.”
It could be the continuation of a recipe for disaster.
“They move the funds to the Office of Violence Prevention, but the crime rates keep going up,” Wagner said. “Hopefully, (the Common Council and the liberal mayoral candidates) have really, sincerely changed in their hearts the way they feel about police and will put the resources back into more officers and opening up the courts to full capacity.”
“Hopefully, it’s not empty talk for an election year.”