Milwaukee leaders hope strengthening ties with federal law enforcement agencies will help bring down the city's homicide rate, which has been steadily rising in recent years.
City officials met with U.S. Marshals Service Director Ronald Davis Wednesday to discuss continued partnerships with the agency, which has the broadest arrest authority among federal law enforcement agencies. Davis said part of an effective crime reduction strategy is strong partnerships with local law enforcement.
"This is not a new partnership, but I do want to see if we can add to it," Davis said during a meeting at the Federal Building in Milwaukee.
Davis said the agency — specifically the U.S. Marshals with the Eastern District of Wisconsin — are looking at how they can help Milwaukee lower violent crime in the coming months and years. However, he didn't share any specific details on how they will work with Milwaukee in the future.
"I am confident that we are looking at providing additional resources, and are providing additional resources, in support for the district to assist the city and the police department in their efforts," Davis said.
In July 2022, the Marshals conducted a "fugitive apprehension initiative aimed at combating violent crime" in 10 cities across the nation, according to a statement. That initiative, titled "Operation North Star," did not include Milwaukee. But Davis said Wednesday the agency was soon starting the second phase of the initiative, even though he didn't share any more details about future plans when talking to reporters after the meeting.
"Part of the visit here is also in that light," Davis said.
Davis said the Marshals Service has a fugitive apprehension taskforce, which includes the Milwaukee Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in the Milwaukee area.
"They've been working together for years in basically going after some of the most wanted," he said.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said he was encouraged by the director's visit. He's also hopeful the Marshals will continue to "increase their profile" in the community, so people know what they do.
"This presents, I believe, an excellent opportunity for us to take further advantage of an already established partnership between all our law enforcement experts and the United States Marshals Service," Johnson said.
What do the Marshals do?
The U.S. Marshals Service is the enforcement arm of the federal courts, with approximately 3,500 deputies and criminal investigators operating across the nation.
The agency arrested more than 75,000 people in 2022, according to the agency, including more than 9,000 sex offenders and 5,700 homicide suspects. About 47,000 of those were arrested from state and local warrants, while the rest were arrested on federal warrants.
The agency's "Operation North Star" initiative began in July 2022 in Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. It resulted in the arrest of 1,501 individuals, including 230 wanted for homicide and 131 for sexual assault, according to a statement from the agency.
Milwaukee leaders take aim at violent crime
Even as homicides hit a record high for the third year in a row in the city of Milwaukee, other serious crimes — including robbery, auto thefts and theft — were collectively down 15 percent last year, according to numbers released by the Milwaukee Police Department. While the city saw a record 214 homicides in 2022 — an increase of 11 percent from the prior year — other violent crime in Milwaukee fell by 7 percent.
Homicides, theft and motor vehicle thefts are significantly down so far in 2023, compared to this time last year. But there have been 60 nonfatal shootings so far this year, which is 12 more shootings than this time last year.
Ashanti Hamilton, the director of the Office of Violence Prevention, talked about the importance of a public health approach to reducing crime during the meeting on Wednesday. That approach includes gathering input from diverse sectors including health, education, social services, justice, policy and even the private sector, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Everyone has to play a role," Hamilton said.
"It's been a labor of love attempting to do that, and I think that there's a space, director, for this relationship" Hamilton told Davis.
Mayor Johnson has also continued to call for stricter gun laws, at the state and federal level to address gun violence in Milwaukee. A 2019 study from BMJ found states with more relaxed gun control laws and higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of mass shootings. Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence ranked Wisconsin 22nd in the nation in "gun law strength."