4 Investigates: Studying why Milwaukee has seen a drop in murders

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wwltv.com

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 3 at 1:19 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS - In New Orleans one of the leading causes of death among young African-American men is murder.

The city administration is now adopting a public health approach to track and prevent gun violence based on a model, now showing positive results in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Milwaukee is a city of nearly 600,000 people, located on the banks of Lake Michigan.

From its iconic art museum on the lake front to a bronze statue of the Fonz (from TV's Happy Days) on the river front along with its breweries and Harley Davidson plant, the city is known as a "Great Place on a Great Lake."

Mayor Tom Barrett admits not too long ago, Milwaukee also shared a dubious distinction with New Orleans as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.

"We were averaging between 100 and 125 homicides a year through about 2005-2006," Barrett said.

Earl Ingram, the only full-time black radio talk show host in Milwaukee says there was a sense of hopelessness in neighborhoods hardest hit by the violence.

"If you don't find some concrete ways to address the younger brothers or siblings of the young men who are killing one another, you're not going to be able to turn the faucet off," Ingram said.

Mayor Barrett and Milwaukee leaders turned to science to help turn off the faucet.

In 2005, they created a homicide review commission to track and analyze Milwaukee murders.

"It's really to the deep dive, to find out what's going on and it really brings the city agencies together, brings the community, the state, corrections, everyone is now at the table," Barrett said.

Epidemiologist Mallory O'Brien led the development of the homicide review process and now serves as the commission's director.

"This is real time," said O'Brien. "We have somebody who is looking at the homicide as soon as it occurs, making referrals and starting to look at what does the data tell us."

The panel uses a public health approach to reduce violent behavior.

Law enforcement, prosecutors, social service providers and community leaders have a seat at the table.

Dr. O'Brien says the commission performs what she calls a "social autopsy" on the victim and perpetrator in every murder and non-fatal shooting.

"What do we know about the family that this individual came from? What do we know about the neighborhood? What do know about their education? Did they complete school? Are they from Milwaukee? In some cases we'll know how social services agencies touched that person."

The analysis of hundreds of murders revealed that Milwaukee murders were largely clustered in very specific places, such as in and around taverns, largely clustered around active offenders who were very well known to the criminal justice system and often the outcome of an ongoing dispute between individuals and/or groups and involved respect, status and retribution as motives.

Milwaukee police get the latest findings at their daily roll call before heading out on patrol.

Police Chief Ed Flynn says the data gives his department a better sense of the current crime hot spots and the nature of the problems on the street.

"You don't have a homicide problem, per se," Flynn added. "You may have a domestic violence problem that's presenting as homicide. You may have a gang problem that's presenting as homicide. You may have a drug problem that's presenting as homicide. You may have a youth crime issue that's presenting as homicide."

One local lawman doesn't put a lot of stock in the homicide review commission.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who used to be a homicide detective with the Milwaukee Police Department called it "political window dressing" and "a waste of money."

"I have not seen anything startling or revealing come out of that commission," he said. "One of the findings that came out of reviewing all these homicides was that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of homicide had a prior criminal history. I thought, really. This is what we're paying a half-million dollars for."

From 2005 to 2008 the number of murders in Milwaukee dropped about 40 percent from 121 to 71 killings a year.

Murders have since rebounded some what with 86 killings last year.

"The stated objective that they're going to reduce homicide in a very direct, protracted way, there's really no evidence to support that," said Dr. Stan Stojkovic, dean of the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

But, he says the work of the homicide review commission is beneficial to the community.

"If we can get more agencies who are related, directly or indirectly to crime matters to share information about their clients, about what goes on in a systematic way and we can develop patterns and trends, that can be very useful data," Stojkovic said.

On the night we rode along with MPD's Neighborhood Task Force, police broke up a fight outside a local high school.

Earlier in the day there was a triple shooting on the north side of Milwaukee.

"The big piece still has to be done by an active, engaged department willing to embrace data analysis and act on the logic of what they learn from that analysis," Chief Flynn said. "New Orleans like Milwaukee has to understand what its problem is. They have to understand where it's concentrated."

Radio host Earl Ingram says folks in the community also need to show a zero tolerance for people in their own backyard forcing others to live in fear.

Ingram added, "If people in your community who look like you are in the community and they are irresponsible and they have weapons that we all know they shouldn't have and they have no problem discharging those weapons and making your neighborhoods unsafe, that should be the number one priority,"

 

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