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As Milwaukee County recovers from pandemic, arrests and charge rates remain down

Milwaukee has seen a slight increase in its crime rate along with a decrease in arrests and charges over the last five years.
Milwaukee has generally seen an increase in crime rate along with a decrease an arrest over the last five years.

The COVID-19 pandemic shut down a lot of things, including parts of our criminal justice system. Courts, jails, and police officers all had to change in light of safety concerns. But since the height of the pandemic, trends have emerged that some researchers find concerning. In Milwaukee and cities around the country, arrests and charges are down while rates of some crimes have risen substantially.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum digs into these numbers in a recent report titled, “Under Pressure.” Rob Henken and Ari Brown from the policy forum believe that the data paints a clear picture.

"I would argue that there's no function of government that saw greater upheaval than the justice system, certainly at the height of the pandemic," says Henken.

These trends are not limited to Milwaukee. Other large cities saw similar increases in crime as the pandemic diminished. Specifically, violent crimes seemed to steadily increase. The data also found that prior to the pandemic, fewer people were being arrested though the rate of crime mostly stayed the same. This only increased after the pandemic began and the spike was largely seen in specific crimes, like car thefts.

"Sworn staff levels are way down over the last five years or so. Staff that are available are having to spend a lot of time on things like medical runs, which was not something that they were having to do prior to the pandemic," explains Brown.

Henken advises against speculating too far into the research. "In some very important areas, things today do not look like they looked prior to the pandemic. We don't know enough yet to tell the community whether that's a good thing, a bad thing [or] a mixed thing ... we know there are going to be impacts elsewhere and so let's understand what's causing the problem."

The full report can be found here.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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