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Number of police officers in Milwaukee has fallen 16% in 5 years » Urban Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Police Headquarters.  Photo: Peter Cameron.

The Milwaukee Police Headquarters. Photo: Peter Cameron.

The total number of officers employed by the Milwaukee Police Department has fallen more than 15% over the past five years, from more than 1,900 to about 1,600.

The city budget appears to be an important reason for the decline, although not the only one. After funding an average of 1,864 police officer positions in 2019, the cash-strapped city steadily reduced the total amount funded each year, ultimately bottoming out at 1,630 positions in 2019 Bryan Rynders, the budget manager for the city of Milwaukee. That’s a decrease of almost 13%.

In the 2024 budget, supported by an increase in state funding, the city increased the number of funded officers to 1,645. The city currently employs about 1,600 officers, according to police spokesman Sgt. Efrain Cornejo.

The staffing decline is related to the loss of officers through turnover related to budget constraints, Cornejo wrote in an email to The Badger Project.

The decline reflects larger trends in Wisconsin and the rest of the country as more officers leave than are replaced in the wake of the “cop crisis.”

The state of Wisconsin continues to lose police officers as the overall number has been declining for many years. But compared to Milwaukee, the state has lost only about 7% of its officers patrolling the streets over the past five years.

A range of demographic, cultural and financial forces have come together to cause the “cop crisis,” he said Meghan Stroshinean adjunct professor at Marquette University who focuses on policing.

She blamed: “A dramatic increase in retirements among baby boomer and generation civil servants.”

“Departments are simply unable to recruit and train officers quickly enough to replace those leaving the force in large numbers,” she continued.

The annual starting salary for a police officer in Milwaukee is about $65,000.

To close the gap, the Milwaukee Police Department is speeding up its recruiting process, said Leon Todd, executive director of the city’s Fire and Police Commission, which oversees some policies in the two departments. The Civil Commission recently lost some authority to department heads with a recent bill in the Republican-controlled state legislature that gave more state funding to Milwaukee and all other local governments in Wisconsin.

“One thing we have not done and will not do is lower our hiring standards or eliminate the various testing components we currently have in place,” Todd said. “We want to increase the quantity (of officers), but we also want quality.”

To be hired by the Milwaukee Police Department, officer candidates must go through a multi-month process that includes written tests and background checks.

“We don’t want just anyone for this job,” Todd said. “It’s a very important job.”

Law enforcement officers in Wisconsin are required to earn 60 college credits within five years of starting their job, but are not required to have a degree before starting their job.

The city suffered a horrific spike in murders in 2020, 2021 and 2022, with a new record being set each year. That number finally fell in 2023 and will continue to fall again this year, although it is still above pre-pandemic homicide levels.

Under the terms of the state funding increase, the city of Milwaukee will receive $200 million and must hire more than 100 police officers within 10 years to bring its total to 1,725. mayor Cavalier Johnson says the city will do that sooner.

To improve its emergency response, the city now has five crisis assessment teams, consisting of a police officer and a clinician, Cornejo said. The teams help connect people in crisis — mental health, suicide, addiction, etc. — to various resources to try to keep them out of jail and thereby save the city money.

And the city also currently employs five community service employees, Cornejo said. These are civilian employees who respond to low-priority service requests such as theft, non-injury traffic accidents and vandalism.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported nonprofit journalism organization in Wisconsin.


This article first appeared on The Badger Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.