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Johnson did play an important role in the approval of the 2022 budget, which included filling 195 positions on the force.
But those numbers only bolster an already vacancy- and attrition-ridden Milwaukee Police Department. They will not increase the number of officers on the street.
In 2021, Milwaukee experienced 205 homicides, an uptick in gun violence, more than 10,400 car thefts and 43 reckless driving related deaths.
So, it’s not surprising that the size of the city’s police force is front and center in the mayoral race – and will likely continue to be.
In the Feb. 15, 2022 primary, Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson led the field, and will face former Ald. Bob Donovan – who has struck a law-and-order theme – in the April 5 general election.
In his second TV ad, released Jan. 6, 2022, Johnson declared: "I led the fight to add 200 new police officers to make our city safer."
Is he right?
Let’s start with some background on the police force, and why the number of actual officers on the force at a given time is always changing.
That’s because officers retire at various points in the year, and new ones are brought on in bunches, as recruit classes finish their training.
But in recent years, there has been an unmistakable downward trend.
In 2019, there were an average 1,832 officers on the force. That fell to 1,738 in 2020 and then to 1,632 in 2021.
As of Jan. 28, 2022, the Milwaukee Police Department had an estimated 1,629 sworn officers.
On Nov. 5, 2021, the Common Council voted 13-0 to approve a $1.76 billion budget for 2022 that aimed to limit the decrease in police officer positions by authorizing 195 new recruits funded from the tax levy, not from federal funds. That budget was introduced by then-Mayor Tom Barrett and passed by the council while Barrett was still in office.
The budget office was still expecting an overall decrease of about two-dozen officer positions in 2022, even with the additional 195.
After the vote, when he was still presiding as Common Council president, Johnson described it this way: "We maintained (Milwaukee Police Department) strength."
Keep that phrasing in mind as we look deeper.
There are really two parts of the claim by Johnson: That he led the fight for the new officers and whether those officers can fairly be described as "new," which suggests an increase in the size of the force.
When we asked Johnson for backup, his campaign adviser, Sachin Chheda, cited two things: The 195 officers added in the budget and an additional 30 hired through what is known as a COPS grant – federal money that was meant to bring on new officers to facilitate the reassignment of experienced officers to task forces related to a federal program to address violent crime.
The 2020 COPS Hiring Program Grant – a three-year grant that provides 30 new police officers – went through a drawn-out legislative process between 2020 and 2021. The file failed when it was before the Common Council, but it was then reconsidered and approved and later signed by Barrett on Jan. 19, 2021.
While Johnson was not the sponsor – the Barrett-administration was – he consistently voted in favor of the grant while it was in front of the Common Council.
As for the 195 officers, those, too, were requested by Barrett. He proposed spending $6 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the three recruit classes instead of putting the cost on the tax levy.
Johnson put forward legislation during the ARPA deliberations and the subsequent fall budget process to fund the 195 officer positions in 2022.
Said Chheda: "Without his leadership, the city would have seen more than 200 fewer officers on the street. He will continue to address public safety as his top priority in the weeks and months to come."
So, Johnson played an important role in assuring funding for the recruit classes. But in the TV ad, viewers may be left with the impression the size of the force increased, since it talks about "new" officers "to make our city safer."
And the bottom line is that the measure will maintain the department’s strength, not increase it.
In a TV ad, Johnson claimed that he "led the fight to add 200 new police officers to make our city safer."
Johnson played an important role in the approval of 195 recruits, as well as the officers covered by the 2020 COPS grant. But based on expected retirements, those recruits will simply maintain the department’s size, not increase it.
We rate the claim Half True.
Cavalier Johnson,TV ad, Jan. 6, 2022.
PolitiFact, "In 2021, 65 people in Milwaukee have lost their lives due to reckless driving accidents, and more than 9,000 cars have been stolen, double the amount in 2020." Feb. 4, 2022.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Common Council rejects $10 million grant for 30 more police officers, could reconsider, Dec. 15, 2020.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Common Council adopts $1.76 billion 2022 budget that socks away funds for pension spike, Nov, 5, 2021.
Legislative Research Center, Approved Amendments to the 2022 Budget, Nov. 5, 2021.
Legislative Research Center, 2020 COPS Hiring Program Grant, Jan. 19, 2021.
Emails and data from the Milwaukee Police Department, data on number of sworn officers with the Milwaukee Police Department 2019-2022.
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