Milwaukee, WI – The Milwaukee Common Council voted Tuesday morning to turn down a $9.7 million federal police funding grant that would have paid for 30 additional police officers for the city for three years.
Community members have weighed in on both sides of the issue for months as the council has debated and delayed making a decision about whether to accept the almost $10 million grant money since October, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
Milwaukee’s murder rate is the highest it has been since the mid-1990s but the city’s police force currently has 200 fewer officers than it had in 2016.
Sixty police officer positions were dropped due to budget reductions in 2020, and the council voted to drop another 120 via attrition in 2021, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant available from the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) would have picked up all expenses for 30 officers for three years and helped the cash-strapped city facing a spike in violent crime.
The federal grant, which was approved unanimously in past years, opened a larger conversation about policing in Milwaukee after the city was plagued with protests for months following the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Milwaukee Alder Ashanti Hamilton proposed seven conditions that the Milwaukee police would have to comply with in order for the grant to be approved by the common council, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
“The time period we are in is requiring us to demand more and to request more from those that have the responsibility of enforcing the law in our communities,” Hamilton said. “I find ourselves at a cross point. Both as a council and a nation about whether we are prepared to make those changes.”
Hamilton wanted the Milwaukee Police Department to agree to improve response times, allocate more officers to traffic enforcement, and add more beat cops to the city streets, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The common council approved the grant with Hamilton’s seven requirements.
But Milwaukee Acting Police Chief Michael Brunson called the alderman’s stipulations “worthy goals” and said he couldn’t promise to achieve them given the number of officers that have been cut from the force, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The council debated for an hour before Hamilton took the stipulations off the table and they voted to 9-6 against the original grant proposal.
Milwaukee Alder Marina Dimitrijevic told Wisconsin Public Radio the council wanted a different type of policing for the city going forward, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
“We’re having a discussion about our vision,” Dimitrijevic said. “We’re having a small conversation about a large issue and it’s going to keep coming up until we can have the talk that the nation is having, that people are having at their kitchen table and that people are having in the streets. What does public safety look like?”
But in the meantime while that discussion is happening, the Milwaukee Police Department will lose 150 officers through attrition in 2021, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The grant would have allowed the Milwaukee police to participate in DoJ’s Operation Legend, a federal initiative to reduce violent crime in the nation’s cities.
Milwaukee police had already cleared one hurdle by getting DoJ to agree to allow them to not agree to an element of the grant related to immigration enforcement, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Police officials had previously said they were unclear on whether Milwaukee would be able to participate in Operation Legend if they didn’t receive the COPS grant.