The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday rejected the federal COPS grant that would have provided the city with 30 additional police officers.
The vote was 9-6 to pass up the $10 million grant.
Groups, such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Milwaukee, North Side Rising and others, protested the funding before the vote, calling it “a step back from the steady movements to defund the police ... and a slap in the face to a community that has decided we do not need more officers.”
The nine members who voted to forgo the grant later issued a joint statement saying that they worried about the long-term cost of adding officers as the grant only pays for three years and wanted to send a message to the city that they have been listening to the protests that started early this summer.
“People can no longer accept a police department that takes so much and spends what it has in ways that they do not believe truly protect them,” the statement said. “The intention of the amendments offered at yesterday's meeting; not to turn aside federal resources, but to assure ourselves and the community that there really is some hope for change. A great many in this City cannot abide the notion that this grant would only bring 30 more police officers into a department that has lost the trust of many,”
Mayor Tom Barrett called the move troubling and reminded people that the city is down 60 officers this year because of tight budgets and is facing an additional reduction of 120 officers next year.
“Here we are in a year where we are seeing a record number of homicides, where reckless driving is a serious problem throughout this community, where we are seeing break-ins and robberies and our council is saying no, we don’t want that money,” he said.
Barrett acknowledged that the country is having important conversations on whether to defund the police, following the officer-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It sparked massive protests across the country and in Milwaukee.
Barrett said he’s pleased that Ald. Nikiya Dodd, who voted against the grant, made a motion later in the meeting, to reconsider the rejection of the money — so the item could come before the council again next month.
Barrett urged aldermen to work together on a solution.
“I’m hopeful that at the next council meeting after a very, very fruitful debate, that we will be able to come to a point where we can do two things at the same time. One, we continue the work that needs to be done to reform policing in America but two, we can do so in a manner that is fiscally responsible and is in the best interest of public safety,” said Barrett.
Barrett said if the money is approved next month, it would be used to train a new class of police officers.
At the council meeting Tuesday, Ald. Ashanti Hamilton introduced conditions the police department would have to meet in order for the council to approve the grant. They included improving response times.
Hamilton said the city is at a crossroads.
“The time period we are in is requiring us to demand more and to request more from those who have the responsibility of enforcing the law in our communities,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton withdrew his amendment when outgoing Police Chief Michael Brunson said it would be a challenge to meet those expectations.