A call to reduce the Milwaukee Police Department’s nearly $300 million budget by 10 percent didn’t materialize in the city’s recently adopted 2021 budget, but the idea lives on in the Common Council.
At a Steering & Rules Committee meeting Monday afternoon, Alderman José Pérez introduced a resolution that directs the Department of Administration’s Budget & Management Division to provide “regular updates to the Common Council on plans to reduce the budget of the Milwaukee Police Department.” Budget & Management Director Dennis Yaccarino agreed with the idea, saying that he would provide quarterly updates beginning in January 2021.
The resolution was in response to an initial resolution introduced by Pérez back in June, calling for a 10-percent cut in MPD’s 2021 budget. That resolution was approved on a Common Council vote of 13-2.
“For me, the budget wrapping up was just the beginning of the conversation about reform and change,” Pérez said at Monday’s meeting. “I really wanted to put some teeth on getting commitments and regular updates of how the suggestions that the budget director had put in the presentation back in June leading up to the budget deliberations are going to be moving along.”
The June presentation in question was titled “10% Reduction to the 2020 Police Department Budget.” The report identified a number of ways to reduce MPD’s budget by nearly $30 million, including:
• Attrition-related sworn staffing reductions
• Sworn personnel layoffs
• Establishing an alternative first-response service outside of the Police Department
• Shifting the Police Department’s Internal Affairs audit and investigative functions to a new department
• Reducing special event services and/or fully recovering costs for staffing special events
• Expanding the use of civilian Community Service Officers
• Civilianizing sworn positions
Then-MPD Chief Alfonso Morales attacked the idea of a 10-percent budget reduction, penning an op-ed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that claimed 375 officers could be cut because of it.
Despite the 10-percent reduction not appearing in the city’s $1.6 billion 2021 budget, MPD’s size will still decrease by 120 officers. The attrition-related reduction was put forth by Mayor Tom Barrett and approved by the Common Council. Due to rising personnel costs, however, the move will save the city a mere $432,000.
“Many people are probably wondering, how can it be that the police budget is almost the same as it was last year, and at the same time 120 police positions will not be filled next year? The answer is we cut salaries by $8.5 million, but police health care and other personnel costs have risen and chewed up those budgetary savings,” said Barrett during his budget address.
Separate from the budget, 30 new officers may or may not be hired thanks to a $10 million federal COPS grant. The acceptance of the grant is currently being debated by the Common Council.
Following the approval of the 2021 budget, several alders expressed their ongoing frustration with MPD’s massive budget. The department’s $300 million budget is, according to Urban Milwaukee, “greater than the city’s entire property tax levy and equal to half of its general fund.”
“We know that we must consider the community’s needs and priorities when looking at the massive budget for the Milwaukee Police Department, which has for decades brought racially centered control and daily oppression in the neighborhoods we represent,” alders Milele Coggs, Ashanti Hamilton, Nikiya Dodd, Khalif Rainey, Russell Stamper, and Chantia Lewis said in a joint statement. “We know we would be doing our community a disservice by not using the budget to address the social, economic, public safety, public health and education issues that are at the forefront of our minds.”
Monday’s resolution was adopted by the committee. Common Council President and Committee Chair Cavalier Johnson added himself as a co-sponsor.
“Thank you, Alderman Pérez, for keeping your eye on this,” Johnson said.