Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales says there are about 550 Milwaukeeans wounded or killed by bullets each year — a figure he says is unacceptable. Under a recently-installed shoot review model, he brings together various law enforcement agencies, social service groups and others to take a closer look at every shooting.
Milwaukee police say the number of non-fatal shootings in the city is down so far this year, compared to January 2018. And recently, city officials announced both "non-fatals" and fatal shootings were down for all 2018, compared to 2017.
The police department is giving some of the credit to the shoot review model, which investigates all individuals involved in every shooting. The idea behind the model is to try to prevent bad situations from getting worse.
Last week, the news media were allowed to listen in on part of a weekly shoot review discussion at the Police Administration building.
"The numbers are looking good. You are the ones making it happen, and we want to show what you are doing today, so that the public can see it's not a one-person job," Morales said.
The subsequent discussion of some recent shooting cases was off the record, due to ongoing investigations and possible legal action. Then, when the police said the meeting would focus on very sensitive material, reporters had to leave.
But 5th District Capt. Boris Turcinovic can talk about the shoot review model. The 5th district, on the north side of Milwaukee, includes the 53206 zip code — it had 40 homicides and 111 non-fatal shootings last year. Turcinovic says bringing together various partners allows a more targeted approach to shootings.
"To make an analogy to the medical profession — before, we were kind of treating a virus with chemotherapy. You kind of knock out as many good cells as bad ones. Whereas now, we're kind of treating it with an antibiotic which attacks one particular virus," Turcinovic told WUWM.
He says the shoot review in Milwaukee was adapted from a similar program in Oakland, Cali. The approach to the non-fatal shooting victim will vary, he explains.
"Is the person someone we want to bring this to a particular conclusion because they have a significant criminal history, and there is a high risk of retaliation? Or, is this a completely innocent victim who happened to be walking or driving, and the risk of retaliation is not as high?" Turcinovic said.
The police department is working with several community agencies in hopes of steering some shooting victims toward a better life. One of those organizations is the Alma Center, on Milwaukee's north side. Executive Director Terri Strodthoff says her agency has worked with less than 10 people so far under the shoot review model, none of whom wanted to be interviewed for this story.
Strodthoff is upbeat about shoot review, but says there are challenges.
"There's a lot of fear about unknown people coming into their life and family and fear we're part of an investigation, fear that we're going to be adding further harm to their families. So really, there's an issue of trust," she said.
Strodthoff says the Alma Center might start by building a relationship with a close relative of the victim. Maybe help get some house repairs done, for example. She says other victims are willing to go right into job training, or other programs.
An Alma Center outreach worker, James Cross, says he simply tries to relate to clients.
“Being organic and not clinical. I'm not the enemy. So I don't seem punitive. There doesn't seem to be repercussions or weirdness involved in associating with me. I'm just another guy,” Cross said.
As for whether the shoot review model is reducing gun violence in Milwaukee, the Alma Center says it's hard to prove when a shooting is prevented. But if the numbers stay down this year, the police department and its community partners say the new focus on all gunfire victims ought to get some credit.
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