Republicans make their pitch to address violent crime in Milwaukee

NOW: Republicans make their pitch to address violent crime in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The wave of violent crime in Milwaukee is becoming a campaign issue in the race for governor.

It comes as Republican lawmakers are proposing changes to the state's constitution to allow judges to consider how dangerous a defendant might be to the public when determining the bail.

Former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch campaigned on her 'tough on crime' agenda Tuesday in Milwaukee, advocating to reform the state's bail laws and seeking to hire an additional 1,000 police officers to combat high levels of crime.

"We need to end this nonstop cycle of violent criminals being let go on bail so they can terrorize communities," Kleefisch said. "When you honestly say there have been three law enforcement officers shot in two weeks, you know you have a problem."

Incentives to crack down on repeat offenders come in wake of the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy where Darrell Brooks is accused of plowing through the parade route with his car, killing six and injuring dozens after being released on $1,000 bail for a separate offense.

The Republican candidate for governor also encouraged law enforcement agencies to use a portion of their federal COVID-19 relief aid to recruit police officers and boost public safety measures.

Democrats slammed that idea and instead want to boost the state's shared revenue program by 2% over the biennium to give local governments more resources to invest in policing.

Kleefisch dismissed that idea, saying “shared revenue is what it is" and bashed former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for not prioritizing the funds they already have to invest in law enforcement.

During her time as lieutenant governor, the Walker-Kleefisch administration slashed shared revenue by about $76 million, the largest cut in over a decade.

In recent days, Milwaukee leaders have expressed they don't have enough money to meet ongoing needs to invest in police. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin said Kleefisch's plan would make the state "less safe."

“We need evidence-based solutions from leaders who are actually committed to making our communities safer, not just focused on politicizing tragedies and spewing out talking points to rile up their political base," said Iris Riis, communications director at DPW.

Republican candidate Kevin Nicholson, who announced a bid for governor last week, is also supportive of tougher bail laws and wants to enforce mandatory minimum bail and sentencing for individuals charged and convicted with violent crimes -- an idea Kleefisch is also behind.

Nicholson criticized Kleefisch for wanting to hire 1,000 police officers and suggesting using the State Patrol in areas that experience a high number of crimes.

"As governor, I will also work with municipalities and urge them to rebuild understaffed police departments," Nicholson said in a statement. "To be clear, 'surging' our roughly 500 State Patrol officers into high-crime neighborhoods is not a realistic solution to anything. There’s not enough of them and it's not their job."

Some Democrats are on board with tougher bail laws, but fear other proposals like setting mandatory minimum bail would create an unfair criminal justice system.

"We can't have mandatory minimums that will always treat everyone the same," State Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) said. "It's important for us to find a way to do this in a way where we can make sure there's a fair process, due process in the system while also keeping our communities safe."

Back in December, State Rep. Evan Goyke and many of his Democratic colleagues agreed Darrell Brooks should have never been out on bail, but expressed reserves about Republicans' bail reform approach.

"A higher cash bail could have resulted in Mr. Brooks being held and prevention of this tragedy in Waukesha, but maybe it wouldn't. Because if you have money and you can post bail, then you are out even if you are dangerous," Goyke said during an interview in December.

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