Milwaukee leaders credit community partnerships in homicide decline

Non-fatal shootings and motor vehicle thefts have also been down

Trees surround a tall building that says "Milwaukee Police"
The Milwaukee Police Administration Building on Thursday, Oct. 13, in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The city of Milwaukee has seen a decline in the number of homicides so far in 2024 compared to the last couple of years.

According to data from the Milwaukee Police Department, as of Wednesday, there had been 29 homicides so far this year, compared to 42 in 2023 and 61 in 2022.

WPR’s “Morning Edition” host Alex Crowe spoke with WPR reporter Evan Casey about this trend.

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The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Alex Crowe: I want to know a little bit about these numbers. Do we know how these numbers were compiled?

Evan Casey: For starters, I think it’s important to say that Milwaukee broke its homicide record for three years in a row from 2020 to 2022. So far, these numbers are a really encouraging sign for city leaders.

And what happens in Milwaukee is the Milwaukee Police Department compiles the data, and they put it on their website for everyone to see. Those stats are usually updated every weekday.

AC: In terms of the groups in Milwaukee that try and help reduce these homicide numbers — can you tell us what groups exist in Milwaukee and how they’re working to reduce these homicide numbers?

EC: So the main office rebranded. Their new name is the Office of Community Wellness and Safety. They used to be called the Office of Violence Prevention. The office has been in place for around 16 years now. Their main goal is preventing violence — specifically gun violence — across Milwaukee, which we see a lot of generally.

What they take is called a public health approach to addressing violence. What that looks like is what they say is using “evidence-based practices and strategies” to create programs that help with the issue.

One example of that would be basically just using data to kind of look at where a lot of these crimes are happening across the city. And sharing that information with community groups and with the police and with other city leaders, so they can try to use a proactive approach to get around that issue where it’s happening across the city.

That office actually has several people who work for them who are only focused on this issue in Milwaukee on reducing the number of gun violence incidents in the city.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson speaks to reporters while presenting crime statistics on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Evan Casey/WPR 

Mayor Cavalier Johnson has also been laser-focused on this issue. He’s been in office since 2021. He has spearheaded a lot of programs that look to reduce the number of violent incidents in the city. One of those is called Milwaukee Peace Week that began last year. It was a neighborhood walk, a gun violence summit, and a panel discussion with people who are involved in this work.

The city also has this year what’s called Camp RISE. That is a free program for youth in this city, which looks to get kids off the streets during the summer months.

AC: I’m glad you brought up the summer months because that’s typically where we see a spike in violent crime in the city of Milwaukee. In the past few years, city leaders have done a number of things to try and address that. What sorts of things are Milwaukee leaders saying about heading into summer months where these violent crime numbers typically start to rise?

EC: A lot of the programs are focused on youth during the summer because they’re out of school, and they may not have great figures in their life to keep them off the streets and out of crime. The Safer City MKE Initiative is a newer initiative that the city is involved in and is a public private partnership. They look to keep kids off the streets by putting them in programs and in summer camps all across the summer.

Like last year, they went to Brewers game for a day, and kids were able to meet the mayor and hang out with him for a little bit.

Youth in Milwaukee got to spend a day at American Family Field as part of the Safer City MKE initiative. Evan Casey/WPR

AC: We’ve talked about reducing homicide numbers, but I’m curious as to where the other crime statistics are for the city. Where are we at right now in terms of non-fatal shootings or violent crime other than fatalities in Milwaukee?

EC: One thing the city has really been concerned about is the number of domestic homicides that has been happening across the city in the past few years. There’s no data, I think, for this year so far when it comes to domestic homicides.

But there were 16 domestic homicides in Milwaukee County in 2018. In 2022, that number rose to 49. So obviously, when you have a high number of homicides, that naturally is going to happen. But city leaders and especially the Sojourner Family Peace Center, which tracks those incidents, they said these incidents have been on the rise in the past few years, and especially this year.

When it comes to other crimes — like non-fatal shootings — those are down a lot this year compared to the past few years. Also motor vehicle thefts, which the city has been looking to help with, those are down this year compared to a few years ago.