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Listen MKE is an initiative created by WUWM, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library to help Milwaukee's north side residents get the information they want and need.

Listen MKE: Milwaukee's Car Theft Crisis

(From top left, clockwise) James Causey, Victor Barnett, Kenneth Wallace, Eric Pfieffer, John Chisholm and Nikiya Dodd.

WUWM has been partnering with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library on an initiative called Listen MKE. Its goal: help north side residents get the information they want and need.

This conversation focuses on Milwaukee’s car theft crisis. More than 1,000 vehicles have been stolen in the first 40 days of 2021 in Milwaukee.

One concern with the increase in car thefts is the number of juveniles involved in these crimes. Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm spoke about the lack of resources for kids who are at high risk of being involved.

“We have a lot of resources for what I would call, low to moderate risk kids in the Milwaukee area. We have next to nothing for high-risk kids,” said Chisholm.

Often juveniles are sent to Lincoln Hills, a youth school and prison with a history of violence and abuse. Chisholm wants to see an approach based around keeping kids in their community and with more resources.

“What we’re doing right now simply doesn’t work and we know it doesn’t work because when we send kids to Lincoln Hills, it’s basically it’s almost like the express ticket to the adult system,” he said.

Victor Barnett is the executive director of Running Rebels, an organization dedicated to connecting with and mentoring young people in Milwaukee to guide them towards a better path in life. He said that young people are facing issues like lack of love in their life or lack of hope and they need someone to be a positive role model.

“We need to do a better job of connecting with our young people so that when a 10-year-old, 12-year-old kid is in your neighborhood, you know him and you see him hanging with older guys and it’s not positive — somebody needs to intervene,” said Barnett.  

Kenneth Wallace is one of the young people who participates in Running Rebels’ programs and he said kids tend to steal cars to try to impress each other and as a form of entertainment. They aren’t considering the impact that stealing a car can have on someone’s life. Barnett explained what he hears when he talks to kids coming into their programs.

“I don’t think they understand, there’s some people who lose their job because they can’t get to work,” he said. “To them, they’re having fun, they’re doing what kids do and impressing their friends … they don’t understand the pain that comes from that.”

Barnett says his goal is to get kids to see the bigger picture of their actions and the harm they can cause.  

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