Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn addressed a joint roll call between MPD and UWM Police officers on E. Newberry Blvd. on September 8, 2012. JS photo Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn addressed a joint roll call between MPD and UWM Police officers on E. Newberry Blvd. on September 8, 2012. JS photo

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn addressed a joint roll call between MPD and UWM Police officers on E. Newberry Blvd. on September 8, 2012. JS photo

By Dave Umhoefer August 18, 2014
By Devon Waugh August 18, 2014

Bob Donovan says no net gain in police officers under Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan, a candidate for mayor in 2016, worries that upcoming retirements could further reduce what he sees as an undersized police force under Mayor Tom Barrett.

In his ‘state of the city’ speech Feb. 24, 2014, Barrett noted he had added 120 new officers in his 2014 budget. Donovan hit on that number when interviewed in the wake of his mayoral announcement.

"The reality is the number of officers has not increased," Donovan said during a July 29, 2014 appearance on the Charlie Sykes show on WTMJ-AM. "Now the mayor will continue to say we’re hiring 120 cops this year. That doesn’t take into consideration the fact that we’ve had 150 retirements, or that we haven’t filled positions going way back."

When we asked Donovan about the comment, he did not cite hard numbers, but told us he figures unfilled positions and retirements have outstripped the addition of recruits over the 10 years Barrett has been in office.

Is Donovan  right?

Has police strength -- at least by the numbers -- been flat or gone down on Barrett’s watch?

To answer that question, we turned to the city’s Fire and Police Commission, which issues an annual report that details the size of the overall force.

To be sure, the actual number of bodies on the force on any given date is constantly changing, since retirement dates vary while recruit classes mean a wave of new bodies joins the force at once.

The Fire and Police Commission reports, available online, are as close to an official tally of police strength as we found. They list, by race and gender, the number of persons on the Police Department payroll as of the last pay period of each year. The latest covers 2012, so we obtained figures for 2013 and so far in 2014 directly from the commission.

We used 2004 as the pre-Barrett baseline for our comparisons, because Barrett didn’t take office until spring 2004 and therefore did not propose the budget for that year.

All figures factor in retirements, terminations and new hires.

Police officers

At the end of 2004, 1,402 police officers were on the payroll. That number fell to 1,357 by the end of 2013, a 3 percent drop.

By that measure -- the one the public sees -- Donovan is correct that officer strength "has not increased."

Barrett administration officials note it can be misleading to look only at strength of force at any one point in time. A new class of officer recruits came on line in late 2004, boosting the number, they said. A comparison of pay period one in 2004 to the same period in 2014, for example, actually shows a small increase in officer strength.

A better measure than point in time comparisons, they said, is average strength across the whole year. That was 1,349 in 2004, they said, and based on the first half of 2014 it’s 1,341 now -- a smaller decline.

Still, that approach does not change the accuracy of Donovan’s claim.

Total sworn officers

City officials often will refer to this larger figure when discussing "officer strength," and Donovan did as well when we contacted him. It includes not only patrol officers but detectives, supervisors, various technicians and specialists as well as the police chief and the top command staff.

At the end of 2004, the figures show 2,006 sworn officers were on board. That number fell to 1,828 by late 2013 and to 1,875 by mid-July 2014.

Earlier in 2004, according to Barrett’s budget staff, the figure was 1,932. And Barrett’s office released figures using the average strength throughout the year that show a smaller drop in overall sworn strength. Again, those figures change the angle of descent, but not the downward direction of the trend.

Within those numbers, the detective ranks fell by more than one fourth.

So by this broader measure, Donovan is on target again.

Ten-year trend

The staff strength figures from the Fire and Police Commission show that the police officer ranks grew early in Barrett’s tenure, but have slipped gradually with one exception since then.



Featured Fact-check
























*Sources: Fire and Police Commission, from Milwaukee Police Department payroll reports. **As of July 2014

As for the broader sworn ranks, a similar trend is evident.

By way of explaining the lack of growth in the police force, Barrett chief of staff Patrick Curley and city budget officials said state shared-revenue aid to Milwaukee has dropped by $25 million since 2004 while the police budget is $65 million higher.

They said the department under Chief Edward Flynn has re-deployed officers from administrative tasks to community policing. That was accomplished by hiring more civilians to do those desk jobs, they said. Efficiencies have helped avoid layoffs seen in some big cities, Barrett spokeswoman Jodie Tabak said.

The Barrett officials told PolitiFact Wisconsin that our inquiry for this fact check led the mayor to quickly unveil a proposal to add 15 more officers to a training class that will graduate in April 2015.  It already had been under consideration to announce later this year, they said.

The mayor will propose his 2015 budget in September.

Our rating

Donovan said the number of Milwaukee police officers "has not increased" under Mayor Tom Barrett.

Donovan’s claim is on target because reports from the city’s Fire and Police Commission indicate a decline in the number of officers since 2004. And other measuring sticks offered by Barrett’s office show the same trend.

We rate Donovan’s claim True.

Our Sources

WTMJ620, Charlie Sykes podcast, interview with Bob Donovan, July 29, 2014

Interview with Alderman Bob Donovan, August 4, 2014

Interview with Jeff Osterman, Fiscal Analyst for the Legislative Reference Bureau, August 4, 2014

Interview with Michael Tobin, executive director, Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, Aug. 13, 2014

Interview with mayoral Chief of Staff Patrick Curley; city Budget Director Mark Nicolini; Bryan Rynders, Fiscal Planning Specialist, Senior; Dennis Yaccarino, Budget and Policy Manager; spokeswoman Jodie Tabak, August 13, 2014

Interview with Legislative Reference Bureau manager Richard Pfaff, Aug. 11, 2014

Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission reports, 2004-2014

Milwaukee Legislative Reference Bureau budget analyses

City of Milwaukee budget archive

Public Policy Forum 2009-2014 Budgets in Brief

Vacancy Reports from the Milwaukee Police Department

Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on local police departments

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Dave Umhoefer

Bob Donovan says no net gain in police officers under Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up