Milwaukee picked for federal Operation Relentless Pursuit

By: - December 26, 2019 6:30 am
Police scene crime tape set on long exposure moving down with zoom lens

Mark Strozier (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Milwaukee is one of seven U.S. cities the federal government considers violent enough to warrant federal intervention.

Through Operation: Relentless Pursuit, an initiative announced Dec. 18 by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Milwaukee will experience a surge in federal agents, enforcement funding, access to more police equipment, and a renewed ability to hire more police officers. Local officers may also be drafted into federal task forces, or related assignments under Operation: Relentless Pursuit.

In April, Milwaukee was named the sixth most dangerous city in the United States by the home security company SafeWise. The company compiled the list of dangerous metro cities with a population of 300,000 or more, utilizing Federal Bureau of Investigation crime report statistics from 2017. Cities that fell below that threshold were not part of the study, which included assault, murder, rape and robbery.

Other cities listed alongside Milwaukee on Safewise’s list were St. Louis at No. 1; followed by Detroit, Baltimore, Memphis, Kansas City, Cleveland at No. 7, followed by Albuquerque, Indianapolis and Oakland. St. Louis, despite its number-one ranking, is not included in the initiative, nor are Indianapolis and Oakland.

“We selected these cities based on a number of factors,” Barr said at a press conference to announce the initiative. “Obviously the level of violent crime. But we also assessed our local partners. Very important to us was whether we had local partners that were effective and working well with our joint task forces.” By local partners, he meant local police departments, sheriffs and district attorneys.

“The federal government can’t attack this problem alone,” he continued. Barr argued that increasing the number of federal agents and joint forces is “our principal tool for addressing violent crime, and it is an effective tool.”

About $71 million will be allocated for the program, which Barr said he hopes will result in a total of 400 police officers being hired in the selected cities.

Kenneth Gales, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, told Wisconsin Examiner that it’s unclear how much money will be allocated to Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Police Department’s press office said it was currently unclear what its involvement with Operation: Relentless Pursuit would include, but added: “We look forward to partnering with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies on this initiative to collaboratively improve the quality of life in the [city of] Milwaukee.”

“Milwaukee is a great city whose residents deserve to live in safe, flourishing neighborhoods,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Krueger, who heads the Eastern District of Wisconsin’s U.S. Attorney’s office. “Federal, state, and local law enforcement is committed to working together to ensure the safety of every block in Milwaukee. Operation: Relentless Pursuit represents an unprecedented pledge of new federal resources to enhance those efforts and hold accountable the small number of individuals who cause most of Milwaukee’s violence.”

The operation will bring together multiple federal law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives).

However, at least one state official has expressed concern over the initiative. “Nearly 600,000 people live in the city of Milwaukee,” said Rep. LaKeshia Myers, whose district includes part of Milwaukee. “If you watch the television news at night, media would have you thinking that Milwaukee is truly an unsafe city when in actuality crime has gone down tremendously.”

Milwaukee Police Chief Alfanso Morales told the Common Council in June that homicides were down 32% this year. Myers also pointed out that crime happens across Wisconsin, yet issues in Milwaukee are constantly put under the microscope. “You have to look at perspective when you’re touting statistics and crime rates,” said Myers.

Krueger said that two target areas for the operation in Milwaukee will be opioids and gun violence. Since these issues, particularly opioid addiction, are not unique to Milwaukee, Myers said she hopes “the radius [of the operation] is not just limited to the city of Milwaukee.”

Instead of flooding the streets with federal agents and more local police, Myers advocates for proven preventive measures such as the Safe & Sound community-led program that brings together community organizing, youth development, and local law enforcement, and the Office of Violence Prevention run by the Milwaukee Health Department.

Myers believes these programs should be considered for federal funding along with traditional law enforcement. During the city’s budget meetings, dozens of residents flooded city hall, decrying the fact that the city spent nearly half its budget on the police department while cutting funding for community programs, and city services.

Myers also pointed to the seemingly political undertones of the announcement.

“You look at when it was presented, on the day of (President Donald) Trump’s impeachment. I think that was a diversionary tactic to divert attention away from the happenings that were going on in Congress. I also think that political gamesmanship is at play when you look at some of the cities which were represented in Operation: Relentless Pursuit.”

Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, Myers said, “are states that will make a difference in the 2020 election. So I think that this is something that will be used to be a talking point for the president.” The 2020 Democratic National Convention will also be hosted in Milwaukee, Myers notes. “What other way to disparage a city than by saying, ‘Oh it’s unsafe.”

Gales of the East District’s U.S. Attorney’s office, downplayed the political aspects of the operation and said the fact that Milwaukee will host the DNC “is purely coincidental. The two are unrelated.”

“Taking advantage of the existing partnerships with local law enforcement and reducing violent crime in the identified cities were the motivating factors,” said Gales.

He added that “there is no time limit,” to the operation, and that “ultimately the capability to sustain progress will be important.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.