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Mayor Tom Barrett's Budget Proposal Cuts 120 Milwaukee Police Officers

City of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaks during a press conference on Feb. 27 in Milwaukee.

 Updated Wednesday at 9:35 a.m. CT

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett would reduce the city's police force by 120 positions in his proposed 2021 budget. Barrett is presenting the $1.5 billion budget to the Common Council Tuesday.

The police positions would be reduced through attrition. The mayor's budget cuts about $430,000 from the police department's current funding level.

The proposal follows the loss of 60 sworn police jobs in this year's budget, which cut the department to about 1,800 officers.

In addition to the reduction of 120 officers, the Milwaukee Police Department would no longer be responsible for 911 dispatchers under Barrett’s proposal. They would be moved to a new division created within the Fire and Police commission.

Barrett says the city continues to face “sobering” budget realities, especially when it comes to law enforcement.

“As the cost of public safety climbs more and more, we simply cannot cover these expenses. Many people are probably wondering, how can it be that the police budget is almost as large as last year, and at the same time, 120 police positions will not be filled next year. The answer is, we cut salaries by $8.5 million but police, health care and other personnel costs have risen, and shoot up those budgetary savings,” Barrett says.

Barrett also blamed reductions in state shared revenue for the cuts to the police budget — as well as the Republican-controlled Legislature’s failure to allow the county to implement a sales tax to cover the costs.

The budget cuts follow calls nationwide to defund police amid the demonstrations and marches for racial justice.

The Milwaukee Common Council voted in June to explore cutting the police department by 10%, or $30 million. Barrett says the reductions to the department in his budget fall short of that goal but adds that reaction to the idea has been mixed.

“Some citizens are demanding defunding of the police department, while others are seeking more funding for law enforcement. As heated as these arguments are and as important as this debate is, we must recognize that the entire debate is taking place when we have seen dramatic increases in homicides and non-fatal shootings in our city this year, after four consecutive years of decreases in our violent crime rate,” Barrett says.

One person who voted to explore the idea of cutting the police department’s funding by 10% is Common Council President Cavalier Johnson.

He says some of his constituents are disappointed that the mayor’s budget proposal doesn’t include a bigger cut, but Johnson thinks the 10% can eventually be achieved.

“There are moves over time to take the 911 dispatch out of the police department, which would be a savings of millions of dollars. Obviously, the attrition of officers amounts to I believe about $10 million,” Johnson says.

Barrett said the city was expecting a difficult budget year even before the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout and the marches for racial justice.

Barrett's budget would also make cuts to the city's fire department, which could likely result in the closure of one fire station. There would be an additional fee for street lighting and a $10 increase in the wheel tax. It also includes the creation of a new Office of Equity and Inclusion, which would focus on equal rights in city government.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held virtually on Oct. 6. The Finance and Personnel Committee will consider budget amendments. The final adoption by the Common Council is scheduled for Nov. 6.

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