MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in three years, there's a detailed survey of how Milwaukee residents feel about their police department. The results of that survey were presented to the Milwaukee Common Council's Public Safety Committee on Thursday, March 8.
The Fire and Police Commission first had this survey done in 2014. The 2017 edition includes answers from more than 1,300 residents. While overall satisfaction with the Milwaukee Police Department has remained the same, perceptions of safety have changed.
"These trends have not, as of now, significantly impacted opinions of the police," said Joseph Cera, who authored the study.
Cera, who also authored the 2014 survey, worked with researchers from St. Norbert College to interview 1,338 city residents through a random dialing system.
The study details how from 2014 to 2017, resident perceptions of MPD are roughly the same; about three-quarters of respondents say they're at least somewhat satisfied with MPD. However, there's a sharp change when it comes to perceptions of safety.
In 2014, about 39 percent said they felt Milwaukee was either not very safe or not safe at all. In 2017, that percentage grew to 55 percent.
In addition to the issues of safety perception, 24 percent of the respondents said they were the victim of a crime within the last 12 months, up from 20 percent in the 2014 survey.
"Isn't that striking? And then a significant number, that wasn't their first victimization," said Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan.
Also striking is the difference in perception of police compassion along racial lines. Among residents who initiated contact with police, about 42 percent of white respondents said the officers were very compassionate, while about 42 percent of black respondents said the police were not at all compassionate.
"A couple times I received a phone call from people I know personally who said 'I had a negative interaction with the police,'" said Milwaukee Alderwoman Chantia Lewis.
"Forty-two percent of African-Americans said 'not at all.' Not at all? That's almost half," said Milwaukee Alderman Mark Borkowski. "Do we have idea what is going on with that? That’s shocking."
An MPD spokesman said no one from the department was available for an interview Thursday but said command staff received a presentation of the results last week at the FPC meeting.
The aldermen discussed ways the city can improve perceptions of safety and of officer compassion.
"We need officers who are familiar with the neighborhoods they’re patrolling, protecting, and the people are familiar with those officers," said Donovan.
MPD Interim Chief Alfonso Morales has said he will emphasize getting more officers out into the neighborhoods.
When asked for their suggestions, both Lewis and Donovan cited a comment Thursday from Alderwoman Milele Coggs, who said the council should look at what other similar-sized cities did to improve police and community relations.