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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

New Homicide Dashboard Aimed At Reducing Milwaukee Killings

Chuck Quirmbach
An informal vigil at Walker Square Park on Oct. 2 marked the passing of Jason Cleereman, whose photo is on the bench.

There have been more than 140 homicides in Milwaukee this year, about double the number last year at this time. It's possible that in 2020, the city will set a new record for killings, most of which involve fatal shootings.

Creators of a new online tool at the Medical College of Wisconsin hope to eventually reduce the violence.

One of the most recent homicides took place on the evening of Sept. 22, when immigration attorney Jason Cleereman was shot and killed just northeast of downtown Milwaukee. Police say there was an altercation between Cleereman and a suspect they are still seeking. 

Cleereman lived on the near south side and was a leader in neighborhood groups there. 

Last Friday evening, though a larger memorial vigil was postponed due to COVID-19, about a dozen of Cleereman's friends gathered informally in Walker Square Park to light candles and talk about their loss and the loss to the city.

Cleereman's neighbor, Jay Carter, praised his friend's immigration work, saying, "You know, helping individuals get citizenship, being able to get that licensure, that's so helpful to individuals in our community.”

Carter added that Cleereman's motivation seemed basic: "He loved people. But he wasn't a sentimental guy. He did things by actions."

Cleereman's death was one of several Milwaukee killings in recent weeks. Just over the weekend, a 14-year-old girl, Nequesia Terrell, died near 11th and Burleigh, when gunfire hit the car she was in. 

Fox 6 television reported that during a vigil, a relative said, "They are killing the future of America in a Black neighborhood."

Using data from the Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission is keeping track of the fatal and non-fatal shootings. The commission is now under the fiscal oversight of the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

Credit Screenshot / Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission data dashboard
Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission data dashboard
The dashboard includes the total victim counts by year and type of offense.

In response to various groups that wanted more near-real-time information, instead of waiting for an annual report, the commission recently started an online data center called a dashboard. Program Manager Mike Totoraitis says the dashboard has tables, graphs, maps and other features that attempt to show more about why the incidents took place.

"Drug involvement, relationships between the victims and suspects — all of this tries to provide a broader context for the public, as well as practitioners, to see what's going on in the city,” Totoraitis told WUWM.

Totoraitis says the dashboard allows people to zero in on neighborhoods. He hopes that can help prevent gunfire.

''Practitioners like community organizers and violence interrupter folks like the 414LIFE individuals, they can use this is in real time to say, 'Oh, I didn't realize there was a spike in cases in a different neighborhood than we're looking in. So, let's re-focus our efforts over there.’ Likewise, that same view provides a pictorial of the primary factors and which ones are driving many of the cases. Unfortunately, arguments/fights are a huge percentage of the cases this year,” Totoraitis said.

Credit Screenshot / Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission data dashboard
Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission data dashboard
The dashboard includes a map of incidents for the year 2020 through Sept. 10 by area.

To protect the privacy of people like families of homicide victims, Totoraitis says users of the dashboard cannot get information on individual cases.

In addition to the dashboard, Totoraitis says the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission continues to look at deeper factors behind many shootings. He says some connections have been spelled out by earlier commission reports.

“We looked at the relationship between socioeconomic status indicators like education and poverty in relation to the violence, and we found significant correlations between those two things," Totoraitis said.

The possible impact of job loss and financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic will also get a closer look if homicides continue in Milwaukee.

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