Safer Wisconsin: $115M investment aims to reduce crime, support communities

Attorney General Josh Kaul joined leaders in Milwaukee on Monday, Nov. 1 to announce Safer Wisconsin, , a legislative package that aims to reduce crime and support stronger communities.

Kaul is calling on the Wisconsin state legislature to invest $115 million—a portion of the state’s surplus—in public safety.

"We need to make sure that communities across the state of Wisconsin have the opportunity to tailor the programs they're adopting to the needs of their communities; to listen to their constituents, to talk to them, and to hear from them about how these programs can be most effectively designed to make a difference in communities across the state of Wisconsin," Kaul said. "It's time for the legislature to step up. It's time for them to make a real investment in public safety."

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A news release from the AG's office says if enacted, Safer Wisconsin would potentially do the following:

  • Strengthening community trust and preventing crime. Safer Wisconsin proposes significant investments in community policing and prosecution, violence prevention programs, victim services, and re-entry programs that reduce recidivism. It also would provide additional funding for law enforcement training and ongoing state funding for the Office of School Safety and the Safe at Home program, which assists people in staying safe through address confidentiality.
  • Keeping guns out of the hands of people who’ve been shown to be dangerous. Gun violence has been the primary driver of the spike in homicides in Wisconsin during the pandemic. Safer Wisconsin would expand background checks, prohibit ghost guns, increase the felony classification for repeat felon-in-possession and straw purchasing offenses, and authorize judges to issue extreme risk protection orders.
  • Addressing Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Crises. Safer Wisconsin would expand treatment and diversion programs, including by facilitating the creation of mental health and veterans courts, expand substance use disorder treatment in prisons and jails, provide ongoing funding for regional drug prosecutors, and invest in crisis response teams to enable communities to respond more effectively when people are experiencing mental health crises.
  • Holding offenders accountable. Safer Wisconsin includes several proposals that would help in holding offenders accountable, including reforms that would ensure that sexual assault kits are submitted to the state crime labs, updating state law regarding obstruction of justice, the creation of a hate crime hotline, investing in violent crime investigators and prosecutors at DOJ, and creating a grant program to support officer recruitment and retention programs.

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"The violence; we have to talk about the violence. This has been an unprecedented time – 18 to 24 months of dual pandemics. You've had a public health pandemic, but you've had a violent crime pandemic as well," said Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. "The two are deeply inter-related of course."

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm

"It's important to understand that only through collective efforts can we actually have the impact we want within our community, especially when we talk about community safety," said Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman. "Policing is not the only answer in regards to how we make our community safe. And this particular package supports those efforts outside of enforcement efforts."

Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman

Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman

"We have a surplus. We have a real opportunity right now to invest resources in our communities," Kaul said.

Reaction

Eric Toney, Fond du Lac County District Attorney and candidate for Wisconsin attorney general

"Josh Kaul is pushing a recycled, liberal wish list of ideas which shows he isn’t serious about addressing the violent crime epidemic. He has defunded prosecutors and law enforcement from DOJ when more police officers and resources for law enforcement are what’s needed.

"It takes a focus on traditional law enforcement — not political posturing and defunding the police — including more police officers, more prosecutors, and more resources to end this homicide epidemic, not less. 

"I’ve provided steps we must take to stop the violence in Milwaukee and prevent it from continuing to bleed into the rest of Wisconsin. First, add 10 additional criminal prosecutors and additional DCI agents to DOJ. Kaul has either cut or left unfilled critical prosecutor and DCI positions that work with local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute violent crime throughout Wisconsin.  

"Second, the DOJ should obtain original criminal jurisdiction within Milwaukee County.  Gov. Evers must step up to the plate and tell the Legislature he would sign legislation that would give the DOJ the power to prosecute crime in Milwaukee County that is being ignored.  This would allow the DOJ to better work with local law enforcement and prosecutors in Milwaukee County to take on hundreds of cases that Milwaukee is either unable or unwilling to prosecute.

"Third, revisit mandatory minimums for violent crime, revise cash bail, and fix the failing crime labs by ensuring it is properly staffed and funded.  Kaul has reduced the effectiveness of the Wisconsin Crime Labs despite testing nearly 30% less items in comparison to former Attorney General Brad Schimel."

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