Kabuki Policing

Earlier this month, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Ben Poston struck a nerve with city officials by highlighting a notable decrease in police response times.

“Compared with 2007 figures,” Poston notes, “police response lagged in 13 of 15 major call categories – only responses to shooting and theft from a vehicle were faster.”


 The Journal Sentinel article further examines a June 16 traffic fatality of an 82-year-old man. The Milwaukee Fire Department arrived in five minutes; however, it took Milwaukee police two hours to respond.  Known, back in the day, as a 20-pointer, a fatal motor vehicle accident should, without question, prompt a timely response.

In another instance, 45 minuets lapsed before officers arrived at a fatal stabbing, where the suspect contacted 9-1-1 and all but confessed to the crime. 

While a tardy law enforcement response to crimes in progress might compromise an ensuing investigation, arriving at calls for service hours after the fact leaves the public with the impression that the police no longer care.

“….a Dispatch policy which discourages people from calling by providing a slow response or no response at all will ultimately discourage people from calling and to lose trust and confidence in the Police Department,” retired Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) Captain Glenn Frankovis noted at the Badger Blogger. “Further, when people stop calling to report crimes, those crimes do not get reflected in crime stats. It’s like the old saying, ‘If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, did it make a noise?’ In this case, ‘If a crime occurs, but no one reports it, did it happen? Could that be why ‘Crime is down’?”


Unfortunately, this dispatch policy exists due to a significant decrease in staffing levels. Depending on which police department insider one speaks with, the MPD is 200 to 400 sworn personnel below its authorized complement. According to one source, a staffing shortage on the day shift recently limited District Five to three, two officer squads, which means just six officers covered a gritty area of over 100,000 residents.  

These day shift staffing levels are woefully inadequate, as the public, as well as the criminal element, needs to know that the police will respond to serious incidents in a timely manner.

So why is it that the City of Milwaukee chooses to under staff its police department?

The consensus is that city leaders have other priorities.  Whether it is the outrageously expensive $76 million—seemingly never-ending—city hall renovation project, spending millions in operating costs to run an electric trolley 2.5 miles through downtown, or providing funding to community organizations, political leaders seem to believe that the MPD can succeed while cutting corners.  After all, crime stats are down. 

Of course, if it takes two or three hours to respond to calls for service, by the time the police arrive, victims might not stick around.  Hence, an officer need not generate a report and, at least on paper, no crime occurred.

Call it Kabuki policing, where the best kind of crime stat is the one that, predictably, never finds its way onto paper.

The good news is Journal Sentinel reporter Ben Poston highlighted the problem. Unless the public complains, however, city leaders will continue to divert resources and deplete police staffing levels. Think about it: the City of Milwaukee, without blinking an eye, is willing to layout $2.5 million in annual operating costs for a trolley very few will ever ride instead of hiring 25 police officers.

And on another note, whatever happened to reporters checking and verifying the clearance rates of various felonies? If suspects remain at large to reoffend, victims will find little solace hopping on the trolley.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. 

If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, visit www.badgerwordsmith.com/the_psychology_of_homicide_presentation.html

 © Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2011

3 Responses

  1. Glenn Frankovis

    Poston’s article is very good and hits the important points. I think his interviews of those who called for Police service and got a slow or no response is powerful evidence of just what kind of adverse impact on trust and confidence poor service can have with the good people. I also think Poston’s article made it very clear that this is NOT a street level problem but rather an administrative problem due to a flawed policy of which Flynn readily takes ownership using absolutely incredible examples of rationale. As I stated in my comments in the Badger Blogger post, this arrogance isn’t going to go down well with the good people. What I find fascinating is the apparent complete lack of public concern on the part of black politicians whose constituents largely depend on rapid response to their calls. We all know they’re not shy about jumping up and down if they feel slighted, and I can’t think of too many things that should have them demanding answers than a slow or no response and a Police Chief who says that’s a good thing. Sure is different than when I was around.

    August 14, 2011 at 5:04 pm

  2. Rudy B.

    No consistent or accurate measurment of crime has ever been achieved; this is not the place for an indepth discussion of the UCR, which is only accurate in its homicide data only. Crime by its nature can be concealed and nonreported. It is concealed by victims and offenders and, as the case has been made here by authorites (LE). LE statistics are manipulated by authotes for two reasons; public relations and political. The effort to keep up the decrease as seen in other cities can place pressure on politicians and L.E. administrators for like results. In 1997 Boca Raton, FL. purposely downgraded burglaries this translated into a 11% drop in felony crime. Philadelphia was forced to withdraw its crime statisics for 1996,97 and half of 1998. In 2000, New York city commanders were demoted or reassigned for like manipulation. This problem is not a new one; but if as speculated, intentionally slow responce time is a new tatic in our city. One last word on personnel: During my time w/the MPD about 2,100 sworn LE positions were funded. Only 1,800 were installed; so the funding for the 300-LE-officers went(?), well some of it went to equipment, O.T., and junkets for administrators to add a line on the resume. The solution to street cops will come only w/proper use of the resource. I could help select several former members to run the academy if it would help!

    August 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm

  3. Pingback: Spingola Files » A Little Jingle–as in the Handcuffs Clasping–Needed All the Way In Milwaukee, Madison

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>