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Milwaukee Mayor Johnson announces new Office of Violence Prevention director

Milwaukee Ald. Ashanti Hamilton (left) will lead the city's Office of Violence Prevention. Mayor Cavalier Johnson made the announcement Monday, 10 days after firing former director Arnitta Holliman.
Eddie Morales
Milwaukee Ald. Ashanti Hamilton (left) will lead the city's Office of Violence Prevention. Mayor Cavalier Johnson made the announcement Monday, 10 days after firing former director Arnitta Holliman.

Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention, or OVP, has a new director in Ald. Ashanti Hamilton.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced on Monday that Hamilton will replace former director Arnitta Holliman, who was fired on Aug. 5. Hamilton will resign from the common council before starting his new role.

Johnson described Hamilton’s background, which includes a law degree and time served as common council president.

He said Hamilton knows Milwaukee residents well and is aware of those affected most by violence. In 2009, Hamilton faced a felony child abuse charge for striking his daughter with a hangar. Although the charges were dropped, Hamilton said it was a learning experience.

"I think that there are many people in our community that thought like I thought during that time period," he said. "But I've satisfied everything that was necessary. My family is successful in growing. I think I can help families grow through that as well."

Hamilton said the OVP will analyze its effectiveness.

"We want to ensure that we are measuring whether or not that what we're doing is actually having an impact for the residents that live in this city," Hamilton said.

On Aug. 5, the city fired former OVP director, Arnitta Holliman. Reasons for her dismissal have not been made public.

In a statement, Holliman — who served as OVP director for 14 months — said she has never been reprimanded for her performance during her three years of employment with the city. She also said there isn’t a single individual, agency or program that can be held responsible for the historic levels of gun violence in Milwaukee.

Homicides in the city reached about 100 in 2018 and 2019. Those numbers almost doubled in 2020 and 2021. As of Sunday, homicides total 141, which is a 33% increase over this same time last year.

During the announcement, Johnson said he’s unsure if formal complaints had been filed against Holliman, but he cited meetings and conversations among city employees that prompted the change.

"You can look at any number of council meetings, including when I was on the common council — and a number of times since I've been mayor — where there have been discussions with the former director of this office about some of the things that needed to change," he said.

Holliman told WUWM that she had hoped Johnson would’ve explained why she was removed as director. But now, she’s focused on the OVP’s future, and how its work will continue.

"I hope that the new director gets the support that he needs to do the work and to do it effectively," she said.

Holliman said the OVP under her direction was working on requests from council members like providing more metrics and increasing its presence on the city’s south side. Now as a community member, she’s most concerned about the remaining OVP staff and the city’s spending.

"During my brief 14-month tenure as OVP director, I secured more than $16 million in federal, state and foundation grants," Holliman said in a statement. "During this same period, the mayor’s office shifted OVP’s entire budget from the city tax levy to its ARPA budget on the cusp of a pending fiscal crisis for the city."

Holliman hopes the work will continue with respect to the foundation built over the years while keeping the community’s needs in mind.

"That is my concern," said Holliman. "That is my hope, that people are prioritized over politics."

Johnson said the city is better equipped to relate to the community with Hamilton leading the OVP.

"I want to make certain that tomorrow, next week, next year, that we're in a safer position," said Johnson. "That the city is safer, and that our city is stronger and it's more prosperous."

Johnson said he wants to continue investing in violence prevention activities for the city.

Eddie is a WUWM news reporter.
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