As Madison’s Public Safety Review committee considers its own police budget, Milwaukee announced a $1.55 billion 2021 budget proposal on Tuesday that includes cutting 120 police officer positions.
The proposal — which Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett presented to the Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday — outlines a series of changes to police and fire department units to prevent further depletions of money reserves. The city experienced the depletions before and during the ongoing pandemic.
“This is a change mandated by our current budget reality,” Barrett said in an address at Milwaukee’s Common Council meeting. “As the cost of public safety climbs more and more, we simply cannot continue to cover these expenses.”
In addition to the police cuts, the proposal includes the consolidation of all 911 dispatchers into a new division of the Fire and Police Commission and the removal of one fire department engine company.
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Despite the cuts, the Milwaukee Police budget is set to increase from $297.37 million last year to $315.91 million this year, according to a City of Milwaukee budget brief. Mayor Barrett attributes this jump to heightened employee costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The answer is we cut salaries by $8.5 million; but, police healthcare and other personnel costs have risen and chewed up those budgetary savings,” Barrett said. “Officer fringe benefits will climb 6% in 2021.”
These position cuts continue the city’s trend in decreasing the police force and other employment roles over the past few years, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In 2019, the city fired 60 officers. In 2018, Mayor Barrett proposed to leave 33 police positions unfilled, according to the Milwaukee Independent.
Barrett said at the Council meeting the cuts were due to the city’s recent bond rating drop and a lack of funding from the State Legislature. One of the city’s bond rating agencies, S&P Global, moved the city’s rating down two notches, reflecting the city’s loss in revenue this past spring and summer, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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Barrett also said a lack of state support has left the city no other option but to continue spending cuts.
“It is absolutely unbelievable that we have not received an increase in shared revenue in 18 years, especially when state revenue has increased by 61 percent during that time,” Barrett said.
Amid the increase in the police spending budget in Milwaukee, a push to cut police budgets in Madison persists.
The Madison Public Safety Review Committee, which determines police and fire department budget priorities, recently sent out a news release calling for public input on Madison’s police department budget.
“With recent calls to defund the police and packed agendas on policing reform, we formed a subcommittee to assist the community, Mayor and Common Council in having a robust discussion about the police department budget,” the release said.
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PSRC Budget Subcommittee Chairperson Matthew Mitnick said in an email statement to The Badger Herald the proposed Milwaukee police cuts are not sufficient and the Madison PD should be more aggressively defunded.
Mitnick said funds should instead be redistributed to community resources.
“The Milwaukee cuts are a step in the right direction, but do not go nearly far enough. Patrol positions and inventory levels need to still be cut, and not be made up in the term of benefits,” Mitnick said. “It is an incredible disservice and insult to the community that 24% of the City’s budget goes to the Madison Police Department. I would like to see action taken to invest money into this community not into a harmful department.”
Defunding police forces has gained widespread backing in cities across the United States following recent violent confrontations between police officers and Black citizens, particularly in the cases of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Jacob Blake.
Mayor Barrett said he feels police departments have become overly powerful in recent years and hurt their connection to the community.
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“I am concerned about the level of militarization. I want training to be modernized. I want a dramatic improvement in the department’s relationship with the community,” Barrett said.
The Madison public is encouraged to provide their opinions on the city’s police budget to better help the subcommittee compile a report. They can send feedback to the committee at [email protected]