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Badger Institute: Milwaukee Driving Crime Spike, Criminal Justice System Failing

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A new deep dive into Wisconsin crime statistics shows a growing problem with crime in Milwaukee as well as a failing criminal justice system in the rest of the state.

The Badger Institute released four new reports on Tuesday, each looking at a different facet of the criminal justice system.


1) A Tale of Two States: Wisconsin Crime Trends, 2017-2022

2) Toward Swifter Justice: Overburdened Prosecutors & Public Defenders Linked to WI Court Backlogs

3) The Thinning Blue Line: Milwaukee Police Department’s Attrition Crisis

4) Saving Money, Encouraging Work and Improving Safety Through More Rigorous Electronic Monitoring


The headline-grabbing news is what the Badger Institute’s Mike Nichols calls a Tale of Two States.

“Milwaukee has 10% of the state’s population, but it has an enormous share of the state’s crime,” Nichols said. “In 2021, Milwaukee had 60% of homicides, 53% of aggravated assaults, 68% of auto thefts. It’s so hard to talk about statewide crime without talking about Milwaukee.”

Nichols said the numbers on car thefts paint the picture of how Milwaukee crime is spilling out.

“There are a crazy amount of car thefts in Milwaukee. Thefts are up 255% compared to just 46% in the rest of Wisconsin,” Nichols explained. “But look in [nearby] Wauwatosa in the last couple of years, car thefts are up 436% from 2019 to 2021.”

The Badger reports also highlight problems with keeping police officers in Milwaukee. Researchers say they found “not only has [Milwaukee] reduced the number of authorized police positions, there are fewer officers to fill them,” and “the Milwaukee Police Department is also facing a damaging loss of institutional knowledge and practical skills, which could worsen policing just when Milwaukee needs its force to perform at its peak.”

The reports also question what Wisconsin will do with its prison population, which currently tops 20,000 people. Many of these prisoners will be released eventually.

“Wisconsin policymakers should expand electronic monitoring in specific instances, adopt supervision lengths in line with those in other states and require better statewide data tracking and reporting,” the report notes.

Nichols said one of the most jarring findings was the amount of time it now takes to bring criminals to justice.

“It now takes more than a year for a court to resolve an armed robbery charge, 14 months to resolve a sexual assault case and more than 15 months to resolve an allegation that someone committed a murder,” Nichols added. “It takes 85% longer to dispose of a felony case, and more than 100% longer for a misdemeanor case.”

Nichols said that is twice as long to deal with a case today compared to 20 years ago.

“God help the people who are victims,” Nichols added.

He hopes Wisconsin lawmakers and policy makers read the report, and start thinking of some solutions.

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