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Number of police officers in Milwaukee has dropped 16% in five years » Urban Milwaukee

Milwaukee Police Headquarters.  Photo: Peter Cameron.

Milwaukee Police Headquarters. Photo: Peter Cameron.

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

The city budget appears to be a major reason for the decline, but not the only one. After funding an average of 1,864 police officer positions in 2019, the funded total steadily declined each year, ultimately reaching 1,630 in 2019, according to Bryan Rynders, the budget manager for the city of Milwaukee. That is a decrease of almost 13%.

In the 2024 budget, supported by a state grant, the city expanded the number of funded officers to 1,645. According to police spokesman Sgt. Efrain Cornejo.

The staff reductions are related to the loss of officers due to attrition combined with 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 the “police crisis” leaves more officers leaving than being replaced.

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

A range of demographic, cultural, and financial forces have converged to create the “police crisis.” Meghan Stroshinean associate professor at Marquette University who focuses on policing.

She blamed “a dramatic increase in retirements among Baby Boomer and Generation X officers, an increase in voluntary resignations among officers due to low morale and lack of community support, and an inability to hire officers quickly enough to replace those who leave the profession. ”

“Departments are simply unable to hire and train officers quickly enough to replace those who are leaving the force in exodus-like numbers,” she continued.

The starting salary for a Milwaukee police officer is approximately $65,000.

To try to close the gap, the Milwaukee Police Department is ramping up its hiring process, said Leon Todd, executive director of the city’s Fire and Police Commission, which oversees some policies in the two departments. The civilian commission recently lost some authority to department heads in the Republican-controlled state Legislature’s recent bill that gave Milwaukee and every other local government in Wisconsin more state funding.

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

To get hired into the Milwaukee Police Department, officer candidates must go through a process that takes several months and includes written tests and background checks.

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

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

The city suffered a horrific rise in homicides 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 get $200 million and must hire more than 100 police officers within 10 years, bringing the total to 1,725. Cavalier Johnson says the city is more likely to do so.

To improve emergency response, the city now has five Crisis Assessment Response Teams, consisting of a police officer and a doctor, Cornejo said. The teams help connect individuals in crisis – mental health, suicide, addiction, etc. – with various resources to try to keep them out of custody, and by extension, save the city money.

And the city also currently employs five community service officers, Cornejo said. These are civilian employees who respond to low-priority calls 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.