Milwaukee Police Funding Increasing after 2020 Cuts

by Shirleen Guerra


In September of 2020, then-Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett proposed cutting 120 police officers from about 1,800 budgeted positions in the 2021 budget.

Barrett proposed the cuts, in part, due to budget constraints amid a national and local clamor to divert resources from policing just four months after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police.

The tone had changed in 2023. Just a month ago, Mayor Cavalier Johnson gave a speech on his 2024 budget where he said, “I am not cutting police sworn strength.”

Johnson even mentioned in his speech new forms of revenue the city could use to hire new police officers. Johnson mentioned an increase in sales taxes that had been approved that the city could tap for more police funding.

In July 2023, the city enacted a 2 percent tax on most sales in the city of Milwaukee and also mandated a certain level of funding and staffing for police and fire departments.

According to the state, cities must use shared revenue aid payments from the state to increase or maintain police and fire staffing.

The city of Milwaukee stated that within 10 years, it must increase Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) total sworn staffing to 1,725.

The city says the 2023 budget has 1,630 sworn police officers so it must add 95 sworn police officers.

The city said the new sales tax revenue will generate about $28 million to increase police and fire department staffing levels.

In 2020, the city budgeted for 1,956 law enforcement full-time positions, which does not include civilian police jobs. In 2021, that number had dropped to 1,839 budgeted law enforcement positions and then increased to 1,856 in 2022, according to city budget documents.

Police expenditures accounted for nearly half of city spending for what the budget calls “general city purposes” and includes all the other city departments such as the health department and fire department.

The city spent $290.6 million on the police department in 2022, or 48.6 percent of the $597.4 million in total city spending for “general city purposes.” The city spent $305.2 million on the police department in 2020, according to city budget documents. The city has budgeted $305.1 million in 2024 for the police department.

The Greater Milwaukee Urban League and Milwaukee mayor’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Milwaukee Police Department media team referred questions to the city’s budget office. Liberate MKE, an organization which advocates eventually abolishing the police department, didn’t respond to questions about policing.

Violent crime in Milwaukee has remained at about the same levels over the past three years.

The city had 195 homicides in 2021 and 215 in 2022. Through Oct. 17, the city has had 141 homicides in 2023.

Rape, robbery aggravate result, burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft were all down in 2022 as compared to 2021, according to city crime data.

The Milwaukee Police Department is following a national trend that has seen a big drop in the number of arrests.

According to FBI data, Milwaukee police made 336,723 arrests in 2012 and that dropped to 188,069 in 2020 and then fell to 184,334 in 2022.

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Shirleen Guerra is a reporter at The Center Square.
Photo “Milwaukee Police Officers” by Milwaukee Police Department.



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