CBS 58 Investigates: Milwaukee homicide rates double as leaders clash over police funding

CBS 58 Investigates: Milwaukee homicide rates double as leaders clash over police funding

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Homicides in Milwaukee are up 100 percent compared to last year, and in the midst of the rise in violence there is obvious tension between police and elected officials.

Early Father’s Day morning, a triple shooting left 32-year-old Terrell Hunley dead.

“I just feel like, part of me just gone,” said Relanda Davis, Hunley’s mother.

Hunley leaves behind three young daughters.

“My nieces’ life definitely won’t be the same,” said Antonishia Davis, Hunley’s sister. “They never go moment without hearing their dad’s voice.”

Hunley’s family is just one of dozens grieving this year, as Milwaukee homicides are up about 100 percent compared to last year.

“Our parents are really out here burying their children and their grandchildren from blood being shed out here in the streets,” Antonishia Davis said.

As of July 9 there were 89 homicides compared to 45 homicides at this same time last year. There were a total of 97 homicides in all of 2019.

Police say the increase started at the end of 2019 with an uptick in domestic violence, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, things got worse.

“First of all it affected our ability to do proactive policing which is a major strategy for the Milwaukee Police Department with violent crime reduction,” said Paul Formolo, Acting Assistant Chief of Criminal Investigations for the Milwaukee Police Department.

The pandemic also limited access to substance abuse, mental health and family violence help.

Acting Assistant Chief Formolo says drug, alcohol and mental health issues are contributing to about 58 percent of the year’s homicides and domestic violence, and child abuse accounts for about 25 percent.

“I’m very concerned about the rise in homicides we’ve seen,” said Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson.

Before the 4th of July weekend, community leaders held a press conference about the violence.

“From the police department to the churches to the groups that are out protesting, I need some of this energy to help us reduce this violence in the city,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The family of Terrell Hunley also wants accountability in the community.

“What needs to change is our community, and us as African Americans, we need to get mad and get angry and upset about us killing each other and stop that,” said Antonishia Davis. “Because we can sit there all day and say our black lives matter when others are killing us and things aren’t going our way, but we hate to talk about what we do to each other.”

Meanwhile, the police department plans to step up violent crime reduction strategies.

“We don’t want to go into a neighborhood with a shotgun approach,” Acting Assistant Chief Formolo said. “We want to go in there with a specific focus, deal with specific places that are crime generators, the groups, those people that are known to us to be violent offenders.”

But as the homicide rate increases, so does tension between elected officials and the police department, with the Common Council backing calls from some in the community to reduce police funding.

“The homicide rate doubled with the police department budget being what it is, right?” Ald. Johnson said. “The conversation around reallocating resources to the police department would help to put resources on the front end of somebody’s life.”

Last month the Common Council approved a measure that explores cutting 10 percent of the police department’s budget. MPD says that’s equivalent to 375 officers, and in a tweet, said the mayor and Common Council already cut 60 officers this year.

It led to a back and forth with the mayor.

Mayor Barrett says only about 17 officers were cut in 2020.

MPD says the mayor is counting cadets in the academy.

“We have an academy class but they’re not sworn officers,” said Regina Howard the Assistant Chief in the Administration Bureau of the Milwaukee Police Department.

“Let’s not quibble over the numbers,” Mayor Barrett said in response. “What we have to do is we have to have better management in the police department of the resources that are there.”

“Do you have confidence in Chief Morales?” CBS 58 Investigates asked Mayor Barrett.

“I think that Chief Morales is trying very, very hard, but this, at the end of the day is the city getting safer?” Mayor Barrett said. “And I am concerned. I can’t stand here and say I accept 100 percent increase in homicides.”

The Common Council president wouldn’t say if he has confidence in Chief Morales.

“The chief already is undergoing a review process now,” Ald. Johnson said. “That’s a question I would leave to the citizen board of the Fire and Police Commission.”

The uncertainty from officials is felt by the department.

“Do you feel like you have the support of the mayor and the City Council?” CBS 58 Investigates asked Assistant Chief Howard.

“You know, that’s something that I think right now, the Milwaukee police department, we’re supporting one another and I think that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Assistant Chief Howard said.

Hunley’s family says they just want everyone working together, so no one else experiences their pain.

“I think us as men and women, we need to stand up and stand together as well,” Antonishia Davis said. “It’s so much easier to love than it is to hate.”

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