What's inside that house? MPD investigates nuisance properties

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee police say 60% of crimes in the city occur at what they call "nuisance properties." During a ride-along, FOX6's Henry Rosoff got an in-depth look at how police identify, investigate and initiate change when it comes to these nuisance properties.

A busy Monday morning at Milwaukee Police District 7 on Milwaukee's north side began in a back room, where MPD Officer Michael Fedel coordinated a briefing on a weekend's worth of crime for Captain Regina Howard and other officers.

On this Monday, police were dealing with a murder at the 24-hour gas station on Fond du Lac Avenue -- a property labeled a nuisance location just three weeks prior.

Officers were also briefed on fallout from a shooting at a motel. And, as always, there were incidents at houses where crime seems to be concentrated.

Following the morning briefing, Captain Howard headed to her office, where District 7 Lieutenant Micklitz set up a conference call with other police districts and officials with the MPD Administration in downtown Milwaukee.

"Seeing if we have anything on common in terms of trends or specific issues in terms of felony crimes," Captain Howard said.

In Captain Howard's district, as in others, many crimes come down to location.

"We have 10% of locations where 60% of the crime occurs," Captain Howard said.

That's why Captain Howard met with her nuisance property team to talk about trouble spots. The job of the nuisance team is to follow up with property owners who have persistent problems at their homes or places of business.

If residents call police to complain about an abandoned home where people are doing drugs or a shady business in the neighborhood where crime continues to occur, nuisance team officers follow through on those complaints.

Officer Brian Kobelinski and Officer Darcie Trunkel let FOX6's Henry Rosoff ride along as they headed out to check one of the spots red-flagged during an officer briefing.

Meanwhile, Captain Howard and other members of her team stayed at the station to compile recent crime information to see if there were any new locations worth labeling a nuisance.

"Any time police respond to that location or go out to that location for anything, the owner will be billed for that on their tax bill -- so it can get quite costly," Captain Howard said.

At the house, Officer Kobelinski and Officer Trunkel met two City of Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services inspectors who looked over the property for code violations. Then, the officers went to the door to request a look inside, because they believed someone may have been living upstairs or downstairs without power -- a potential safety hazard and possible sign of criminal activity.

A woman answered the door, and put officers on the phone with the property owner, who promised to be there within a few minutes. When she arrived, she let police in, but wasn't happy about it.

"I don't play. I don't lie. I don't cheat," the property owner said.

"All we're doing is making sure nobody is living up here," Officer Kobelinski said.

The property owner continued to protest throughout the property inspection, even as Officer Kobelinski explained the property owner was not being singled out.

Back at the police station, Captain Howard called Milwaukee aldermen to get their help in connecting with owners of problem properties -- including the owner of the gas station where the homicide occurred. Officers already placed a 24/7 nuisance property video monitoring vehicle near the gas station to try to deter future crimes.

Ultimately, Captain Howard would like to see the gas station owner give up his 24-hour operating license, which she said she believes would help reduce the crime in and around the gas station.

Captain Howard and the nuisance team work with their very own Assistant City Attorney, Nick DeSiato and the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office to deal with places like the gas station. DeSiato will at times, ride along with officers during an investigation to advise them and the owners of what actions the city can take.

"Sometimes it's a friendly conversation. Sometimes it's a not so friendly conversation, but the idea is to abate the nuisance before it turns into something big," DeSiato said.

Out in the field, Officer Kobelinski and Officer Trunkel arrived with Neighborhood Services at the Economy Inn -- the site of a shooting. They spoke with owners, who seemed cooperative and showed inspectors and officers proper permits for new construction projects. Owners also promised to fix a minor code violation. 

During a tour of the property, Officer Kobelinski had a long discussion with the owners about the ways they can change their business to avoid problems, and avoid seeing police in the future.

On the way back to the station to update everyone on the team, the officers stopped by a foreclosed home, where there has been trouble. On this day, there didn't appear to be much going on at the house.

At an afternoon briefing, the nuisance property team explained what they're seeing out in the field. After the update, it was back to identifying, investigating and initiating change at the problem properties that make Captain Howard's corner of the city less safe.

"We certainly don't want people to be victimized at a location that doesn't have good guardianship," Captain Howard said.

Milwaukee police officials say the best way to make sure a lingering problem in a neighborhood is noticed by police is to give them a call.