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Problem-Oriented Policing Just One Facet of Addressing Violence in Milwaukee

Cincinnati's police department uses the community problem-oriented policing model.

Dozens of Milwaukee leaders and residents gathered at The Wisconsin Black Historical Society on Monday evening to discuss the most effective ways of reducing violence in the city. At the heart of the conversation was Problem-Oriented Policing, a theory that stresses best practices for getting to the heart of crimes while creating viable neighborhoods. Law enforcement experts tout the strategy while community leaders insist more is needed to improve many residents' quality of life.

Mike Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at Arizona State University explained the strategy to the gathering on 26th and Center:

"What the essential elements of it are, that there are police officers who know the neighborhood and neighborhoods who know their police officers. There are analysts in a police department, available to help those officers analyze the crime data, the causes of these problems, there are partners available in the community and available to the police who are willing to work with the police on addressing these problems. If you’ve got those three elements and a police management that is supportive of this work, you have got 90-percent of what you need to do this policing."

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn offered the meeting an example of how the strategy has worked here:

A few years ago, we had a significant increase in burglaries. When we looked into it, we found out it was driven by metal theft, because the price of metal was up. So people were ripping up all the abandoned and foreclosed houses in their neighborhoods, and creating places were other crimes would occur, because these wrecked houses were now places where people dealt drugs, used drugs, used them for other crime activity.
And so, we approached the city and we also approached the state and got some money for both demolition and for rehab, because the idea is, if the houses are fixed and people are in them, there not going to be vulnerable to these metal thefts.
The other part of it we did was literally to stake out the metal dealers and to start inspecting them. So we started dinging them for buying stuff that they had no business buying, that was clearly ripped off from houses. Now this abated that problem, even though we didn’t necessarily catch metal thieves in the act of robbing metal, but it helped stabilize the neighborhoods and then ultimately the metal prices came down and that really helped.
So again the idea is look at all of these incidents and identify what the problem is, that these incidents are a symptom of, and if you cure it, if you do the operation, suddenly you don’t have a problem anymore; the incidents drop.

Reggie Moore, director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention insisted that the community needs more than one police strategy to improve the quality of life in some city neighborhoods:

Having grown up in this city, and having lost my fair share of friends, having also been a victim of violence and a survivor of violence, and having worked with young people in this community, I have seen time and time again, where we let politics and we let other things get in the way of saving lives. And we talk about prevention and what that means – it is unfair to limit the conversation about public safety in this community, to law enforcement alone.
Sitting on this panel, my commitment to the community is to say, how do we broaden and equalize this conversation. Prevention is not in opposition to enforcement. When things happen, people need to be held accountable. But at the end of the day, we need to free up the police to deal with the rapists, the sexual assault perpetrators, the shooters, while we deal with stopping that pipeline of pain of young people and adults ending up in those situations in our community.
Unfortunately, we have not made the commitment as a city, as a county and as a state to actually do that effectively. We have to work in partnership, but we also have to keep it real about where the resources are going and make sure that we are having an equitable conversation and investment.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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