Milwaukee's rising crime, police feel change in community: 'Not normal'

It’s late October in Milwaukee. Sergeant Christopher Jackson is starting his shift at Milwaukee Police District 7 on Fond du Lac Avenue. FOX6 News joined Sgt. Jackson in the squad car as he starts his patrol.

The night starts quiet, but it does not last long. Sgt. Jackson gets a call for a reckless driver. We pull up to see a smashed Kia. The driver and passengers are gone. Not long after we leave the scene, another call comes in. This time for a car pulled over for a window tint, but ultimately police arrest the driver. 

Then suddenly two squads peel out of the alley to go to another call. MPD said that has become normal. Officers are constantly waiting for that next call.

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"We definitely feel the increase in crime," Jackson said.

The statistics back it up. In 2020, 190 people died by homicide. In 2021, the number rose to 193 and so far this year more than 200 people have died by homicide. Milwaukee is on pace to set a new record of homicides for the third year in a row.

Milwaukee homicide data

These are not just numbers to Sgt. Jackson. His father was a Milwaukee Police officer, and he grew up in the Sherman Park area. Like his father, Jackson chose to raise his family in the city he serves. That puts him in the minority, 42% of MPD officers live in the city. The other 58% live outside the city. This rule changed in 2016 when the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided Milwaukee could no longer enforce its residency requirement.

Living here, Jackson feels the change.

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"Sitting around, hearing gunshots, that's not normal, that shouldn't be normal," Jackson said.

When asked how to fix it, Sgt. Jackson has one answer. He wants police and the community to have similar interactions as when he was growing up.

MPD officer residency data

"As a kid, you ran after a police car like 'Hey you got a baseball card?!' You had that fun interaction with police officers," Jackson said.

Now the interaction looks more like what we saw at the end of the night. An SUV hit a tree. The driver kept their foot on the gas and exhaust filled the air. Sgt. Jackson backed up, so we wouldn’t get hit. He told us to stay in the car while he rushed to the SUV. He yelled at the driver to take their foot off the gas. We watched as he pulled a young boy out of the car. Neighbors woke up to the commotion. While other squads arrived, we hear the boy tell Sgt. Jackson, ‘Don’t take my mama to jail.’ At five years old, he knows the sad reality of what happens next.

MPD Sgt. Christopher Jackson holds boy following crash

Once we are back at District 7, Sgt. Jackson gets to work on writing reports. It is taxing work mentally and physically. He is not the only one working towards a brighter tomorrow.

Pastor Micaiah Young uses his voice to create change. Members of his congregation at Life Center Church experience the increase in crime every day. Young said Milwaukee needs to acknowledge that most of what we see is systemic. He adds many are traumatized by poverty, lack of education and violence.

"I know what it is to come from a broken family, know what it is to have come from poverty if you will, but what helped me is the positive reinforcement that I got from the community at large," Young said.

Pastor Micaiah Young

The process should start under your own roof, Young said. 

"Invest in your home. Spend time with your children. Spent time with your grandchildren," Young added, "The thing that they’re looking for the most is love and acceptance."

Two things hard to find since Young said many have to overcome labels put on them by those in power. 

"They’ve lumped them into a category and have made them inhumane. But these are individuals who have stories, who have experiences, who have potential. But they’re limited to their experience," Young said.

Young believes Milwaukee is neglected, and the youth is neglected. He said that until those two things are fixed there is an infection in the entire state.

The infection spreading into distrust for police officers. Sgt. Jackson wants to remind people he is human too. "I think sometimes when people have an image of a police officer they have that anger and that I’m ready to do something," Jackson said. "Hey I’m your neighbor, the reason I’m here is to try to make things better."

MPD Sgt. Christopher Jackson

Moving Milwaukee forward to brighter days is why Sgt. Jackson puts on the badge. "You hope your area is taken care of and in some ways it could be better taken care of by the individuals that are there. I’m there and trying to do my part, but everyone needs to do their part to make the city safer make it a better place," Jackson said.

Jackson said this is not the Milwaukee he grew up in. 

"I believe this is a different Milwaukee. It’s a little bit more reckless than in years past and the recklessness needs to stop," Jackson said.

Several organizations work with young people in Milwaukee. Those include Kids Matter, INC. Pathfinders, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee. If you are interested, there are other city resources such as shelters, hotlines and other programs.