Assembly Speaker Robin Vos | Screenshot from Nov. 17 2020 news conference
Republican lawmakers are continuing to hammer gun violence and homicide rates in the southeastern Wisconsin cities of Milwaukee and Racine. Disregarding calls to tighten gun laws and support violence prevention strategies, the GOP has anointed law enforcement as Wisconsin’s only solution.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos doubled down on that stance in a letter to the city of Racine’s mayor and common council. Both Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine) joined Vos in issuing the letter, calling on the city to spend its allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on law enforcement.
In a statement made after issuing the letter Vos said the letter urged Racine officials, “to commit a substantial amount of federal funds towards reducing crime and protecting communities by investing in additional policing.” The city of Racine has been allocated $46 million in ARPA funds, with a second wave of monies on its way. Vos accused the state’s parole commissioner John Tate, a member of Racine’s common council, of being “soft on crime,” adding, “no wonder crime is on the rise.” So far this year, the city of Racine has seen six homicides, which is double the number recorded last year. One recent shooting victim was a local business owner.
Racine’s police chief Maurice Robinson said in a Fox6 report that, “there’s no strategy for random violence. There’s no strategy for senseless violence. Nobody has a plan for that.” While Racine has seen a rise in such incidents, the city isn’t alone. A trio of shootings in Milwaukee’s downtown entertainment district dubbed “the Deer District” after a Bucks basketball game left over 20 people injured last weekend. Chief Robinson said that random shootings, regardless of what motivates them, are difficult to plan against. Wanggard has touted Racine’s use of Community-Oriented Policing (COP) Houses, which focus police presence in a particular neighborhood, and has urged Milwaukee to follow suit.
“This is an opportunity to show the community they [city officials] are addressing public safety and supporting the police too,” said Vos, who pointed out that the Racine Police Department currently has 20 vacancies. In their joint letter Vos, Wanggard, and Wittke scold and lambast Racine’s local elected officials. “Property crime is also on the rise,” the letter states. “Following years of declining rates of motor vehicle theft, incidents in the city are the highest they have been since before Mayor Mason and most of you were elected.” The letter adds, “Immediate action must be taken to put more officers on the street.”
Citing a Vox article, the letter argues that research shows that more law enforcement leads to lower crime rates. The article was published in early 2019, during a time when Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city, saw a decline in homicides. Many credit that decline with the work of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention and community advocates. The article also cites research from 2016 on the relationship between police activities like stop and frisk and crime reduction. It found that while increasing police presence may help deter crime, aggressive stop and frisk operations themselves did little to reduce crime. “What’s helpful is more officers, not more harassment,” the Vox article states.
Gun violence is rising to new heights in cities across the county. But while a variety of factors contribute to the problem Vos and his colleagues point only to the number of police on the street. “With a second round of ARPA funds on their way, we urge you to commit a substantial amount of these funds towards reducing crime and protecting communities by investing in additional policing,” the letter states. “Racine police is already outnumbered. Don’t just reverse the reductions you’ve made in the past — increase force strength. With the ARPA funds, you have a unique opportunity to show your community that you are addressing public safety by using those funds to support police. It shows the community they can support the police, too.”
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