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Do High Numbers of Arrests Equal Safer Streets?

The past couple months have been violent ones in Milwaukee. Shootings have plagued parts of the city. Mayor Barrett has asked both the governor and president for assistance – ranging from money for police overtime to tougher gun laws. Police have blanketed certain neighborhoods and arrested scores of people Some welcome the strategy; others question it.

Last year, Milwaukee police made more than 14,000 arrests. Given that number, it might be shocking to hear the latest totals Police Chief Edward Flynn has delivered.

“We made 2,500 arrests just in the month of July, we’ve made another 2,500 so far in August. That’s 5,000 arrests in two months,” Flynn says.

Flynn says it’s a mixed bag as far as far as the types of crimes committed, but violent offenses are responsible for the increase.

“The spikes are robberies and shootings, and homicide of course is up. That’s a component of our increasing shootings."

Homicides are up 20 percent this year. Flynn says his officers are out in the community interacting with people who appear to be suspicious. Mayor Barrett says the tactic should help others feel safe.

“The department is being very, very proactive. It is continuing to work with neighborhoods and citizens. And bear in mind that in some of the neighborhoods that are hit the hardest you have really good people. These are poor neighborhoods, but really good people who live in those poor neighborhoods. And they are the real victims here,” Barrett says.

While both Barrett and Flynn tout the number of arrests, Sherriff David Clarke says bookings are actually down compared to the same period last year.

“And that’s not a bad thing, but that’s not an outcome, that’s an output. I’d like to know what the results of those arrests were when it came to charging in the district attorney’s office because that’s where the problem lies,” Clarke says.

Clarke has also criticized judges for being too lenient with offenders.

There could be more. Several legislators are working on a bill to impose a mandatory three-year sentence on people who illegally possess guns. One sponsor is Democratic Rep. Jon Richards.

“We need to step in and send a strong message that if you’re going to go that route, you’re going to jail,” Richards says.

We asked the D.A.’s office what more arrests mean for the criminal justice system. So far, no one has returned our requests for comment.

Rev. Willie Briscoe has strong opinions. He says the emphasis on arrests amounts to a war against Milwaukee’s black men.

“It’s destroying the entire structure of our community. To speak sense and truthfulness to our governments that this system of war on drugs, this new Jim Crow of locking up young black men for vagrancy and minor drug incidents, for mental health issues, these are all things that we have to address,” Brisco says.

Briscoe calls on religious and social groups take the lead.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.