Bill would expand ShotSpotter program in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced on Thursday, January 16th that a group of Milwaukee area legislators led by Rep. Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) will begin circulating a bill to help fund the expansion of the ShotSpotter program in the City of Milwaukee.

The legislation would provide $175,000 to help increase the coverage area of ShotSpotter from three square miles to ten square miles.

The technology picks up audio of gunshots and allows the police to pinpoint the location of the crime.

When the crime wave hit Milwaukee last summer, Milwaukee-area legislators took to the streets to listen and learn more about the issues facing the city.  They toured a Milwaukee neighborhood with Alderman Bob Donovan and met with the Milwaukee Police Department. This fall, lawmakers saw a demonstration of the ShotSpotter technology.

The Milwaukee Police Department found that fewer people are calling police when shots are fired in their neighborhoods. Its 2011 data revealed only 14 percent of gun crime was reported to police by residents, further illustrating the need for an expansion of ShotSpotter.

In one case, video captured a shootout and ShotSpotter allowed police to arrive fast.

"15 rounds were fired. We ultimately used this as part of our follow up investigation to arrest five suspects. We would ultimately recover seven firearms and link these suspects to two other robberies," Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said.

Police say the program has been effective -- helping them to capture at least 14 homicide suspects.

State funding, however, has been a contentious topic. The Republican-controlled Legislature cut $445,000 for ShotSpotter from the two-year budget.

"Most of us weren't familiar with this technology when it was first announced," Rep. Vos said.

"It means that all of those legislators cast a vote on something the didn't fully understand.  That was an admission by them that they didn't understand the value of $450,000, but nonetheless voted to cut it," Rep. Evan Goyke said.

Now -- lawmakers want to restore about half that funding.

"We know that a safer Milwaukee ultimately leads to a better Wisconsin," Rep. Vos said.

The city has spent $300,000 on the program, and the County $175,000. If the new bill were to be passed, the state would add another $175,000.

"The legislation being announced would match the counties investment and allow a 3.5 square mile additional expansion, bringing us to 10 square miles of ShotSpotter expansion in this city.  This is truly significant," Chief Flynn said.

"We're pleased with this, and we're pleased with the help that the County has given. What we have found is when people get a chance to see the ShotSpotter, it sells itself," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) released the following statement on Thursday:

“I am pleased common-sense has prevailed and additional resources will be coming back to Milwaukee to support an effective crime fighting tool.  ShotSpotter is one of several community policing initiatives used by the Milwaukee Police Department to combat gun violence.  The program works and should never have been cut in the first place.”

During state budget deliberations, Richards moved to restore the $445,400 cut to the ShotSpotter program.  His motion failed on a party-line vote.

The public safety bill will be introduced in the coming weeks.  The goal is to pass the legislation with broad bipartisan support before the end of the session, allowing the expansion of ShotSpotter to take place before the summer.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he's optimistic the bill will get a vote in February.

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