Milwaukee’s rise in violent crime coincides with the denigration and depletion of the thin blue line
Milwaukee, which has only 10% of the state’s population, had twice as many car thefts as the entire rest of the state in 2021. There is a similar dynamic with homicides.
There are more homicides in Milwaukee each year than in the rest of Wisconsin combined — a record 194 in 2021 in Milwaukee vs. a total of 127 everywhere else.
I talked with Sean Kennedy, author of two pieces in our Mandate for Madison publication, about it on our podcast this week – the detrimental impacts of ubiquitous theft and assault and, in some places in poorer parts of the city away from downtown, murder.
Murder is unheard of across vast swaths of small-town and rural Wisconsin. In 2021, there were no homicides at all in 32 of the state’s 72 counties, including fairly sizable ones such as Adams, Dodge, Door, and Walworth.
Residents of Milwaukee are not as fortunate when it comes to a wide array of offenses.
I asked Kennedy, who studies crime all around the country, what the psychological impact is of 12,000 auto thefts in a city like Milwaukee. There are parking garages downtown, I know, where kids hot-wire cars and run them right through the gates.
“It’s obvious when people put security alarms on their car . . . or they have private security patrolling property, or people are paying extra for parking garages instead of parking on the street,” he said.
“But what’s unseen is somebody hesitating to have dinner in Milwaukee because they . . . think that their car would get broken into or stolen. Somebody hesitating to send their kids to a city school, or somebody lowballing on a real estate offer because there’s an inherent cost to moving into the city, and that’s crime.”
Just as troubling is the decrease in both arrests and the number of police officers.
The most stunning thing that I read in one of the papers Sean wrote for us, “The Thinning Blue Line,” is that due to both budget cuts and difficulties filling vacant spots, the Milwaukee police department’s ranks have been depleted over the past 25 years by 25% – an actual reduction of 538 officers from the peak in 1997. The city’s population was down only 4% over that same period.
Of particular concern: There were 106 fewer detectives in 2021 than the peak of 247 employed in 2004.
Turning it all around will take money – but, perhaps more importantly, it will take an about-face by those politicians and activists who continue to denigrate cops. The cops have had enough, says Kennedy, and the long lines that have stretched across generations in some families, grandfathers to fathers to sons who all were eager to serve and sacrifice – are being severed.
“You often see the sons or the daughters and the grandsons of cops or firefighters on the force a generation later. Well, if your dad tells you, ‘Don’t become a Milwaukee police officer,’ you’re not going to do it when you get out of college or high school,” said Kennedy.
It’s impossible to blame them – and absolutely essential to once again support them.
“All the engines of the economy require some modicum of the rule of law, protection of private property, and a sense of community trust,” said Kennedy on our podcast. “And if we are to achieve those, we have to show that there are basic institutions like public order which will be respected and that will function freely and fairly.”
“The way the mayor and the city council need to think about that is what preconditions can we establish – that’s safety, civil society, and things like that – that we can basically sow the seeds for a flourishing Milwaukee in a generation? One of them has to be the police.”
“It has to be public safety. And one of the ways to do that is to put leadership in at MPD and all the way up and down MPD, and then support them . . . If you put your faith in them and you support them with what they need resources-wise because they’re qualified, competent, and motivated, they will be able to get those things done.”
Mike Nichols is the president of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.