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Milwaukee seeks state funding and help to curtail city’s spate reckless driving

In a rare show of solidarity, the Milwaukee Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett are asking Governor Tony Evers for state aid to assist them in fighting reckless driving in Milwaukee.

Mayor Barrett and members of the Common Council held a press conference October 26, two days after a reckless driver killed a 6-year-old girl and critically injured her 4-year-old sister and 10-year-old cousin on the city’s north side. According to Milwaukee police, a driver swerved around cars stopped at a red light and hit the children who were in the crosswalk on West Center Street. Multiple people have been arrested in connection with the crash.

“We’re better than that,” Mayor Barrett said Saturday referring to the children being hit. “This community is better than that. This insane driving has to stop.”

Mayor Barrett’s proposed 2020 city budget includes reducing the Milwaukee Police Department by 60 officers, through attrition. Barrett has said he has to do this because the department’s budget is larger than the entire property tax levy for the city. The police officer jobs could be spared if the state Legislature supports a bill recently introduced by Democrats to increase the sales tax in Milwaukee County.

“We’ve tried shared revenue, we’ve tried sales tax, for us to get the resources we need for the officers here, we need a partnership with the state,” Mayor Barrett said.

Melissa Baldauff, Evers spokeswoman  for Governor Evers, said the governor’s budget proposed an increase in shared revenue and provided more flexibility for local governments, which could have supported investments in public safety.

“Unfortunately, Republicans in the Legislature removed those provisions,” Baldauff said. “This is on Republicans in the Legislature. They need to step up and do their part.”

During a press conference in Milwaukee on October 28, Governor Evers said: “We have a role in lots of peoples’ lives and I think this is one that’s important. We haven’t had a chance to respond to the mayor’s request. It’s under consideration, but we haven’t had a chance to respond to that yet.”

Every member of the Common Council signed a letter to Governor Evers, asking for help to fight reckless driving.

“The State Patrol has done what it could in recent months to increase the law enforcement presence on Milwaukee streets in the interest of curbing all forms of reckless driving,” the letter stated. “As we have many weeks before the weather turns cold, we must ask for more.”

The letter asked Governor Evers to identify “whatever resources you can that might be given to the Milwaukee Police Department, earmarked for traffic enforcement, programs, educational initiatives and advertising. Until those driving in Milwaukee are compelled to obey laws we seem now to take for granted, we fear more will be injured and worse.”

The City-County Carjacking and Reckless Driving Taskforce has been meeting since April. On Friday, the group approved a draft of several recommendations to be finalized pending community meetings. The taskforce includes members of the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and city government officials.

Some recommendations include increasing the penalties for adults for reckless driving, mandating driving safety classes, conducting victim impact panels for carjacking and reckless driving convictions, narrowing lanes in urban environments, and adding roundabouts.

Alderman Russell Stamper II, who represents the district where the three children where hit, said he supports all the recommendations the task force has made.

“Yes we need money, but now is the time for strict enforcement,”Alderman Stamper said. “What I’m thinking of is it’s time to take your car. If you are driving 25 mph over the speed limit, if you don’t have insurance and you reckless drive, we’re going to take your car. You don’t need to drive in this city.”

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