Experts say pandemic, protests lead to spike in murders in Milwaukee and across the country

NOW: Experts say pandemic, protests lead to spike in murders in Milwaukee and across the country


MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Last year was the deadliest year in Milwaukee history with nearly 200 people killed, but it’s not just happening here. Violence is up across the country.

One of the people killed was Winfred Jackson, Jr., an 18-year-old who had dreams of being in the Army.

“It’s a very difficult place,” Jackson’s aunt, Leatrice Martin, told CBS 58 Investigates as we walked around Washington Park, where Jackson’s body was found.

Jackson was killed in March of 2020.

“Words can’t explain how this makes me feel inside,” said Jalisa Martin, Jackson’s sister. “It’s just heartbreaking and shattering that my brother gone and I can’t see him no more.”

Jackson’s family isn’t alone in their heartbreak. 190 people were murdered in Milwaukee in 2020. That’s a 95% increase from 2019, shattering the previous record of 165 set in 1991.

It wasn’t just Milwaukee, 2020 was a violent year across the country. A study of about 2 dozen cities found on average, homicides were up 32% during the pandemic.

“COVID has done a number on city police departments,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. He conducted that study.

Rosenfeld says COVID-19 reduced police staffing due to officers in quarantine. Social distancing also limited community interaction.

“Diminished police presence in areas hardest hit by the violence, diminished police activity of the kind, so-called smart policing that can reduce violence, I think those are contributors to the uptick,” Rosenfeld said.

But it wasn’t just COVID-19. Rosenfeld says the sharpest homicide increase happened in the summer, after the police killing of George Floyd.

“You have dynamics occurring in the communities, in particular disadvantaged communities of color that have long had a difficult relationship, to say the least, with the local police department,” Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld says that relationship likely got worse during the time of the protests against police violence.

“That widens the space for so-called street justice to take hold and that can contribute to the increase in violence,” Rosenfeld said.

“Street justice meaning they don’t want to call police, they handle it themselves?” CBS 58 Investigates asked Rosenfeld.

“Take matters into one’s own hands, exactly right,” Rosenfeld said.

According to the Milwaukee Homicide Commission, 76% of victims and about 82% of suspects were Black.

And many cases are still open. In 2020, 55% of homicides were cleared, down from 77% in 2019. It’s the lowest clearance rate in the last 5 years.

Milwaukee police provided the following statistics:

  • 2015 – 147 homicides, 85 homicides cleared (58%)
  • 2016 – 142 homicides, 95 homicides cleared (67%)
  • 2017 – 119 homicides, 93 homicides cleared (78%)
  • 2018 – 99 homicides, 75 homicides cleared (76%)
  • 2019 – 97 homicides, 75 homicides cleared (77%)
  • 2020 – 190 homicides, 104 homicides cleared (55%)

Winfred Jackson, Jr.’s case is one of the unsolved homicides.

“It’s unbelievable that all the crime is happening and no one is saying anything, you would think people would want these dangerous people off the street?” said Brittany Martin, Jackson’s aunt.

Rosenfeld’s study recommends some solutions. They include:

  • Directing the vast majority of officers to the highest crime areas
  • Increasing accountability for police misconduct
  • Experimenting with redirecting calls away from police

“Randomly select incoming calls that involve day-to-day living of the homeless and deploy both police and properly trained case workers to the scene and determine if the police presence was even necessary,” Rosenfeld said.

He says the same strategy could be used for police calls involving drug overdoses.

“It’s unclear to me why police would typically be the first responder in those cases when so few of them include factors that require police presence,” Rosenfeld said.

And it will take cooperation with the community. Reggie Moore heads Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention.

“It’s gonna take more than once office or one agency to fix this issue,” Moore said. “We have to invest in families, we have to invest and protect our young people. Investment in mental health support, community outreach. Many groups out here do that but they’re doing it without the level of resources that they need. So we need more funding for that.”

Jackson’s family says they just hope the community comes together in 2021 to stop the violence and to get justice for Winfred Jackson, Jr.

“His life mattered. His life mattered to his mother, his father and the rest of his family,” Leatrice Martin said.

One of the biggest ways you can help solve the problem is with your tips.

In Milwaukee, Crime Stoppers allows you to provide anonymous tips that help police. Call 414-224-8477.

There is a $5000 reward for information in the Winfred Jackson, Jr case.

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