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What to do about Violence in the City of Milwaukee?

By Bob Graf

The question of how to reduce crime and violence in the city of Milwaukee has been of concern to me ever since high school. Now in my 60s having had a variety of life experiences, I find the question lingers.

I have seen spikes of interest in this subject, such as after the 28 shootings of the Memorial Day weekend in 2006. I have read reports from studies on crime prevention, like the one Governor Thompson commissioned after building so many prisons. All these words and solutions sound the same: more jobs, better education, and improvement of family structure. They all eventually go away, only to come back another day, but the violence continues with us and grows daily.

I do not have the answers to why violence in Milwaukee is rising, but I do have some observations and suggestions about what feeds it and how to reduce it.

1. As our government endorses more violence, like the war in Iraq and attempts to bring back the death penalty, violence increases.

2. We all know that investments in education, job training, and treatment programs are less expensive in the long run than prisons and jail, but we often lack the commitment in the short term to make the investment. For example, because of our reduced funding for people with a mental illness, and those with drug and alcohol addictions, we have increased the number of persons who are poor, hungry and homeless, and those in jails.

  1. We need to increase funding for the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) of the Milwaukee Police Department. These teams in other cities have proven an effective ways to reduce police shootings and to reduce the number of persons with a mental illness being taken to prison.
  2. We pay for a lot of things that promote violence and discrimination, like salaries for fired police officers, and legal bills to zone persons and clinics out of certain neighborhoods (like the 6-year, ongoing fight by the city to deny a permit for the WCS mental health clinic). The money spent on these activities could be better spent on treatment programs, education and other means to reduce violence in our community.
  3. We are afraid to enforce responsible gun legislation in the city, state and federal governments. We need the Responsible Gun Ownership Bill in Milwaukee County that is being sponsored by Senator Spencer Coggs in the State Senate.

Angel placed at
scene of homicide
  1. We have seriously reduced our mental health treatment facilities for people with major mental illnesses. Yet people with a mental illness have a lower crime rate than any other segment of society, while being more likely to be victims of crime. We need more, not fewer, psychiatric beds in the Mental Health Complex or alternative emergency detention sites for the seriously sick, and to provide more and better quality housing and support for those who can live in the community.
  2. We talk about closing pools and parks, and reducing library hours to save a few tax dollars, while major corporations like Wal Mart raid our state treasury to pay for health services for its employees.
  3. We keep our vacant lots cleaned and groomed for future development rather than use them now for affordable, organic food for our residents.
  4. We need to fully fund the Housing Trust Fund of the City of Milwaukee.
  5. All government and private agencies and groups need to come together, as they did after the Falk explosion, and work in unison to solve this “crisis of violence” in the city of Milwaukee.

When I was young I was taught that the main purpose of any government is to serve the “common good.” Nowadays it seems like the main purpose of government is to cut taxes for the individual and to spend large sums of money on violence, financed by borrowing that will burden future generations. We spend huge sums of money on non-sustainable items, like preemptive war, gasoline, arms manufacturing and entertainment media, while spending less on sustainable items like peacemaking, renewable energy sources, education, and the rights of health care and adequate housing for everyone. Each individual has the right to health, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, these rights are unobtainable without a government working for the common good. Without working together to preserve these rights, we will continue on the road to violence. The hope I see is in the growing number of persons who are turning away from extreme individualism to walk the talk of stopping violence by eliminating its roots and causes.

Crisis Intervention Teams

Crisis Intervention Team training consists of specialized training in dealing with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. The facilitators coordinate presentations given by volunteer experts in the mental health field and representatives from mental health resource organizations.

The goal of CIT training is to deescalate situations involving persons who may be having a mental health crisis to keep everyone safe, the individuals involved, their family, the police officer and the community at large. CIT training affords law enforcement individuals an education in and experience with techniques for interacting with people in the midst of a mental health crisis.

During the 40 hours of intensive training, the officers learn about alternatives to jail and emergency detention at the Milwaukee Behavioral Health Division. They learn about different mental illnesses, medications and participate in a hearing voices exercise. The officers also interact with individuals with mental illness diagnoses and with family members of those with mental illnesses.

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Page last modified on June 25, 2008, at 11:00 PM

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