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Efforts To 'Defund The Police' Fail To Gain Traction With Milwaukee County Board

Samer Ghani
All summer groups upset over the treatment of Black people were calling to “defund the police” and shift funding to social services. ";s:

With a vote of 14-4, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved a $1.2 billion budget for 2021.

While the spending plan is about $4.2 million less than this year’s, the property tax levy will increase due to a reduction in shared revenue payments from the state.

Supervisors for about four hours discussed the merits of a number of amendments, most of them put forth by Ryan Clancy. They were in response to calls all summer from groups upset over the treatment of Black people. The groups want to “defund the police” – shifting funding to social services. Clancy proposed shifting $12 million from the sheriff’s department to pay for programs such as paid internships at the zoo and a culinary apprenticeship program. 

“If you’ve been waiting for the last minute to support something that does very real tangible good for the community instead of over-policing, this is it,” Clancy says. 

In all, Clancy put forth close to 20 amendments, all of which failed. Clancy was one of the four supervisors who voted against the budget. 

“I ultimately can’t vote for a budget that doesn’t make significant cuts to the sheriff’s office in 2020 and I’m sure many of you understand that. And this budget does defund many departments to avoid defunding the sheriff. I’m sure we’ll continue to have this conversation as the year rolls on. But I just wanted to explain that my vote does honor the work of everyone here, it’s just not something I can get behind yet,” Clancy says. 

In a number of cases, Clancy targeted money the sheriff’s department spends on overtime. According to numbers released by the sheriff’s office last month, the department spent nearly $62 million on overtime between 2014 and 2020.

Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez represents the 12th District on Milwaukee’s south side. She says her constituents aren’t demanding the sheriff’s office be defunded. 

“I speak to the people that I serve so I surely know the will of the people I serve in the 12th District. And their will is not to have any cuts to the sheriff’s department,” Ortiz-Velez says. 

Ortiz-Velez was among supervisors who argued that not budgeting for the overtime doesn’t mean you won’t be billed for it. 

“Even if we approve this, it would really kick the can down the road because if the budget is still used, we will still have to fill it down the road on the back end,” Ortiz-Velez says.

Supervisors say Sheriff Earnell Lucas is aware that he must rein in overtime spending and that he just needs more time to do so. 

The budget now is in the hands of County Executive David Crowley who can approve it or issue vetoes.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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