Fewer calls for service, more concerns for safety

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Fewer calls for service, more concerns for safety

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A Milwaukee police officer patrols on horseback along West Clybourn Street near North Sixth Street in Milwaukee. Crime numbers have dropped in the city since the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo: Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Milwaukee police are averaging 20% fewer daily calls for service after nearly two weeks of social distancing dominating the way of life.

With the coronavirus canceling virtually all public gatherings and closing scores of businesses, call volumes for the Milwaukee Police Department have fallen by nearly 400 calls on weekdays and nearly 300 on Saturdays and Sundays, according to a Journal Sentinel database.

The Journal Sentinel looked at MPD call volumes from the two weeks before March 13, when local social distancing efforts began ramping up, and compared them to the nearly two weeks since then.

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It showed that weekday call volumes dropped 19.7% since March 13, while Saturday and Sunday calls fell 20.8%. 

During the first weekend of social distancing, March 14 and 15, Milwaukee logged fewer than 1,000 calls for service on both days. The last time MPD had such a slow day was in June 2019, according to the Journal Sentinel database.

Milwaukee police declined an interview request for this story.

Suburban police departments were unprepared to discuss any new crime trends born of the new socially distant society. But in terms of high-profile incidents, the metro area appears to have calmed somewhat since the coronavirus arrived.

Milwaukee experienced a violent February and early March, when there were multiple fatal officer-involved shootings and significant domestic violence-related incidents. Much of that was overshadowed by a mass shooting at Molson Coors that killed six people, including the shooter.

The city saw 28 homicides during the first two-plus months of the new year, about one every 2½ days. In the nearly two weeks since social distancing began, Milwaukee police have reported three homicides.

In suburban communities such as West Allis, Delafield and Oconomowoc, police anecdotally reported fewer traffic incidents but an otherwise unchanged number of service calls.

“There is certainly less traffic out in the morning, with schools being closed, especially,” said Capt. Brian Zalewski of the Wauwatosa Police Department.

Other than that, suburban police said they haven’t noticed any trends or significant drops in calls.

“We are not seeing any specific trends in call type related to the COVID-19 virus,” said Christopher Botsch, a deputy chief with the West Allis Police Department.

Keeping officers safe a challenge

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing police is just keeping officers safe from the virus. Area departments have announced steps to limit physical contact with the public, including closed access to police buildings, canceled public events and adjusted procedures for arrests.

But first responders statewide have struggled to keep up with demands for safety equipment to protect them from the virus while on the job.

Milwaukee police, Waukesha County Emergency Management and the North Shore Fire Department are among those who have made public pleas for donations of masks, gloves, sanitizers and other equipment.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers requested such equipment specifically for first responders from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Saturday.

Milwaukee Police Association President Dale Bormann said he’s been satisfied with the safety precautions MPD is taking, but also noted the lack of equipment posed potential issues.

“We want to make sure our officers have the protection they need so they can protect you,” said Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales in a department video asking for donations.

So far, MPD has confirmed that one civilian employee and one sworn officer have been infected with the coronavirus. The department did not respond to a request for information on how it plans to respond if a large number of officers become infected or are forced to self-quarantine after exposure.

And despite the pandemic, Milwaukee has continued its police academy activities.

The department announced Monday that 65 recruits were sworn into the academy, while 13 others graduated from police aide to police officer.

Evan Casey, Bob Dohr, Evan Frank, Andrew Mollica and Jim Riccioli contributed to this story.

Contact Elliot Hughes at elliot.hughes@jrn.com or 414-704-8958. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12.

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