Wisconsin’s total law enforcement spending 15th in nation as communities enter budget season

    Wisconsin State Capitol Police car in front of Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: WI Department of Administration)
    Wisconsin State Capitol Police car in front of Wisconsin Capitol. (Photo: WI Department of Administration)

    Wisconsin’s local governments have entered budget season amid an economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and an upwelling in calls for the defunding of police departments by local activists.  But a new report from Money Geek shows Wisconsin ranks 15th nationally in the proportion of its state and local expenditures spent on policing and corrections. 

    In total Wisconsin governments spend $3.4 billion annually on operating expenses for police and corrections, the report states. Broken down further, that amount is 5.38% of the state’s total spending and $588 per capita. 

    Wisconsin ranks just behind Illinois and just ahead of Oregon on the Money Geek ranking. 

    As President Donald Trump has built a re-election campaign message about high crime rates and rapidly dissolving order in “Democrat cities,” the Money Geek report finds that blue states — which the authors categorize as states won by a Democrat in at least three of the last four presidential election cycles — actually spend more per capita on police and corrections than red states. 

    Largely Democratic states spend $706 per person on police and corrections while Republican states spend $508 per person. Money Geek considers Wisconsin a blue state because a Democrat won the state in 2004, 2008 and 2012. 

    Nevada spends the highest proportion of its budgets on police and corrections while Iowa spends the least. 

    The Money Geek report distills the police and corrections spending from disparate levels of government that include local police, county sheriffs and jails in addition to the law enforcement spending in the state budget. 

    In Milwaukee, Mayor Tom Barrett’s budget proposal includes more than $315 million, mostly in salaries and benefits, for the Milwaukee Police Department — nearly half of Barrett’s total proposal. 

    The Madison Common Council’s Finance Committee met this week to vote on proposed amendments to Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s 2021 budget. An approved amendment moved more money into a pilot program that would send paramedics and mental health professionals to crises rather than cops. 

    A failed amendment would have added four more officer positions to the Madison Police Department. 

    In Wisconsin’s small towns, police budgets can often take up large portions of local budgets because most other city departments don’t have such high operating costs. Even a small village police department can cost more than $1 million due to salaries and benefits. 

    Activists across the state have been calling for local governments to reimagine policing and public safety, moving money into programs that support community health and safety.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.