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Milwaukee Common Council Passes 2016 Budget, Adding 20 Police Officers

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Aldermen tried to use the city budget Tuesday to get their arms around this year's spike in violent crime.

Several put forth measures to add police officers. Ald. Bob Donovan submitted one proposal. He made the case for a bigger police force, pointing out that crime surged from 2011 to 2014.

"Milwaukee has seen a 49 percent increase in violent crime, a 19 percent increase in robberies, a 78 percent increase in aggravated assaults," Donovan said.

And 2015 has been a tough year, with a high homicide rate and other crimes.

Yet some council members questioned the need to grow the police force. Ald. Willie Wade says there's no proof the city is experiencing a trend in crime.

"Is it going to be like this every year? I would say probably not. But if we add these officers are we going to be paying every year? Definitely so," Wade said.

In the end, members opted to increase the force by 20 officers, not the 50 Donovan sought.

Ald. Jim Bohl promoted getting more out of the officers already on the force, by having lower-paid, non-sworn staff handle some duties.

"There are many functions in which those sworn officers go out in the community, where things like responding to low-priority calls if somebody's vehicle was burglarized. There are many areas where we have functions that could be handled by something less than a sworn law enforcement officer," Bohl said.

Bohl said the move would speed the response to low-priority calls -- some that don't get answered for 5-6 hours.

Council members approved adding seven Civilian Community Service Officers to the police department.

Meanwhile, some aldermen pointed out that the budget gives them other tools to reduce crime -- tools that don't have anything to do with the police. Ald. Wade made that case when talking about the importance of city services, such as libraries.

"It's my strong belief that literacy ties in to police and crime and those type of things, so if we're going to be serious about police and crime, it's probably best that we have a literate society. And if we're going to have a literate society, libraries have to be in the forefront of that. Those are investments that we have to make," Wade said.

Wade's colleagues agreed on the importance of investing in libraries. They added funds so branches that had been closing their doors on Fridays or Saturdays, under previous budgets, no longer would have to do so.

The council passed its version of the budget with all but two aldermen voting in favor. The spending plan's proposed levy is the same as Mayor Tom Barrett's.

The council's budget now heads back to Barrett for his consideration.

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