Cities Looking to Milwaukee for Answers Need to Check the Right Places

As far as criminology is concerned, we live in interesting times.  While cities like New York and Milwaukee are experiencing significant decreases in crime, political leaders in Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans are searching for answers.

In Chicago, the 2011 homicide clearance rate was just 30 percent.[1] In some police districts on the Windy City’s south and west sides, the crime rate has skyrocketed to the point where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has asked for and is receiving assistance from federal law enforcement agencies.[2]

While the population of New Orleans is about half that of Milwaukee’s its homicide rate is more than double that of the brew city’s.[3] Yet New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu—a member of a family long associated with the Louisiana’s Democrat Party machine—is making a mistake by looking to Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission for answers. In about an hour, a solid Milwaukee street cop could reach the same conclusions as this commission and save taxpayers $500,000. Instead, Mayor Landrieu should take an in-depth look at the Milwaukee Police Department’s—past and present—policing strategies.

Historically, many of Milwaukee’s policing strategies are very similar to those of New York City’s, where both crime and incarceration rates have declined—the ultimate win-win for victims and taxpayers. In his book, The City that Became Safe, Franklin Zimring notes, “The 20-year adventure in New York City, was, to be sure, a demonstration project of effective policing, but it was much more than that. It was a demonstration that individual and aggregate crime rates can change substantially over time without removing or incarcerating a larger number of active offenders.”[4]

So what is driving crime rates down in New York City while incarceration rates are also decreasing? Zimring believes it is the NYPD’s aggressive stop and frisk policing model.

Regardless of what Milwaukee Magazine claims[5], the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) has had a long history of proactive policing programs.  In the early 1990s, District Two initiated a highly successful Directed Patrol Mission (DPM) to suppress gang activity. In the late 1990s, District Five used its neighborhood patrol staff to target drug and gang activity. In 1996, the old Gang Crimes Unit, which comprised just 3.3 percent of the MPD’s complement of sworn personnel, took over 3,100 guns off the street, while the Vice Control Division targeted drug dealers citywide. Around the turn of the century, District Three’s special units dramatically reduced violent crime in the Metcalfe Park area.

Retired Milwaukee Police Department Captain Glenn Frankovis had an active hand in many of these district initiatives, long before university professors deemed aggressive proactive policing strategies hip-and-trendy.  Police can disrupt violent crime through policing strategies that hobble criminal organizations with a thousand cuts. Like any legitimate business, if key personnel of a criminal gang are unavailable an organization’s effectiveness decreases.

Yet long-term incarceration rates do have an overall affect on the violent crime rate. This is where criminologists, prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officials need to have a serious discussion about what type of individuals occupy prison beds.  While the U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, America incarcerates 25 percent of the entire world’s inmates.[6] With the federal government running trillion dollar annual deficits and many state budgets in tatters, public safety officials need to ensure that prison beds be reserved for violent offenders, which should include those who traffic hard drugs.

A 1994 study of the prison population notes that “over half the offenders” sent to Wisconsin prisons each year committed property offenses.[7] Many of these offenders receive prison sentences for crimes committed in low-crime jurisdictions, which means other, more violent offenders get released to half-way houses or other non-traditional prison settings to make room for property offenders.

While officials in Detroit, Chicago, and New Orleans continue to scratch their heads, all Wisconsin needs is a little tweaking.


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

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2012

[1] “Only 30 Percent of Last Year’s Murders have been Solved.”, January 25, 2012. 10             Feb. 2012. been-solved/

[2] “Federal Agents to Assist Police in Fighting Crime on South, West Side.”, February 10,    2012. 10 Feb. 2012. fighting-crime-on-south-west-side/

[3] “Mayor Landrieu Unveils Plan to Reduce Murder Rate.” November 22, 2011. 10 Feb. 2012.

[4] Zimring, Franklin E. The City that Became Safe, New York, NY. Oxford Press, 2012.

[5] Bamberger, Tom.  “Street Smarts.” January 23, 2012.  10 Feb. 2012.       

[6] Talvi, Silja J.A. (2007). Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S Prison System. Los    Angles. California: Seal Press. pp. xv.

[7] DiIjlio, John & Mitchell, George. “Who Really Goes to Prison in Wisconsin.” The Wisconsin Policy Institute Inc. Milwaukee, WI, April 1996.

5 Responses

  1. Alex Bebris

    A reduction in crime will not be accomplished by police actions alone. A significant cooperative effort must be undertaken in partnership with the courts. University of Chicago researchers are studying the effects of the setting of high bails for suspects arrested in weapons offenses, based upon the model currently in place in St. Louis. About 8 months ago, the courts there started requiring minimum $30,000 cash bails on weapons charges (about 10 times more than previous). Homicides have dropped to levels not seen since 2004. ( It would be interesting to look at what the different philosophical approaches the respective judges have taken in Milwaukee and New York in the past decade and contrast that to the actions of judges in New Orleans.

    Secondarily, I think it would be interesting to look at the different cultures within the agencies themselves. While both the MPD and NYPD have experienced corruption in their past history, I think most would agree that the NOPD is still dealing with this issue within its own ranks to a far greater extent than the MPD and NYPD. It will be difficult for the NOPD to make inraods in community safety and crime reduction when there is either the reality or perception that there are members of the agency that are ‘playing for the other team’.

    The NOPD needs to not only look at models like the MPD, but take a hard look at its courts and itself in the mirror.

    February 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

  2. Glenn Frankovis

    I’d be willing to bet that Mayor Landrieu has someone within his Police Department who is innovative and dedicated enough to come up with a good policing strategy for New Orleans. The problem stifling such internal innovation has always been politics and egos. Policing strategies are abundant throughout the country, and ideas can and should certainly be gleaned from other Police Departments as well as the military, however I am a firm believer that local policies and strategies should be crafted by locals for locals. For example, Philip Arreola was brought to Milwaukee by Mayor John Norquist for a number of reasons, one of which was to implement “Community Oriented Policing”. In theory, it’s a good policing strategy. In practice it was a failure in Milwaukee because it was implemented as a “We are the world; hand holding; burning candles on street corners” strategy which made some people “feel good” but did nothing to address real crime problems in the neighborhoods. Now take that strategy of “Community Oriented Policing” to another level in which you use these regular neighborhood meetings to develop trust and confidence and gather real neighborhood “intelligence” that will help Police Commanders focus their “strike teams” with laser-like precision and you’ve got the makings of a strategy that can, and will, address crime problems in your city. Of course, there’s alot more to it, but it can be done with innovative thinking from within an organization.

    February 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm

  3. Glenn Frankovis

    Alex definitely hit on a major problem within the criminal justice system – the courts. I wrote a post (entitled “Praxis Matrix”) on Badger Blogger about just such a problem in Milwaukee: Seems the “flavor of the day” is letting ‘em out on low bail to reduce jail overcrowding and whatever else left leaning studies are urging. That does nothing to help the good people being held hostage in their own neighborhoods and houses by thugs, and it does nothing to help a REAL policing strategy which depends on building trust and confidence with those good people. I’ve seen it before. The good people identify a problem person; we take that problem person off their streets; the D.A. or Judge lets that problem person out on a “no charge” or low bail; and the good people look at us and ask “why?” – and then “what’s the use of calling if nothing gets done?”

    You want an answer to “jail overcrowding”? Hot bunk these thugs. One has the cell for 12 hours and then the other one gets the cell. They do it in the Navy on board ships, so why not in a prison? Not good enough? Okay, then maybe local Shriff’s, or even prison wardens, can utilize tents like Joe Arpaio does in Maricopa County. Too cold in the northern tier of States? Too hot in the southern tier of States? Tell that to our military people in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world who have to sleep in such conditions. Here’s the real simple answer for the thugs, and thug supporters – if a thug doesn’t like the jail conditions, then he doesn’t have to commit crimes and face the possibility of being placed in confinement – away from decent, law-abiding people who have done nothing to merit the fear these urban terrorists bring to their neighborhoods. It’s called personal responsibility.

    Teamwork throughout the criminal justice system is what’s needed to get the job done – and that includes within the various Divisions and Bureaus of a major Police Department. Nobody should be in it for the accolades. It doesn’t matter who scores the touchdown just so long as we win the game, and we have to remember who it is that we’re playing “the game” for – it’s all about the good people of these neighborhoods.

    February 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm

  4. Glenn Frankovis

    Here’s another example of our Criminal (In)Justice System at work: The kid held a knife to her throat and gets probation. As a cop, how do you make an arrest for something like this and then try to answer the questions of people in the neighborhood why this guy is back on their streets right away? You know it’s getting bad if even the Milwaukee Journal is exposing it.

    February 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm

  5. Glenn Frankovis

    Steve, purely coincidence that this newspaper article (column) appeared in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: but it makes a very good point about looking for local innovation as well as where the REAL obstacles to innovation are found. From the column: “A strategic plan for Milwaukee requires imagination and hard work, but if done with a shared sense of commitment to finishing the job, it will be better than anything designed for us by outsiders.”

    February 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm

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