By Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MILWAUKEE — The combatants in Wisconsin’s historic gubernatorial recall election brought the heat on the campaign trail Thursday, after a newspaper story about the Milwaukee Police Department improperly identifying hundreds of violent crimes.
Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign shifted the spotlight on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found that, since 2009, the police department misreported more than 500 incidents to the FBI as lesser offenses.
The city had reported a decline in violent crime last year, and Barrett has trumpeted the lower numbers on the campaign trail.
“The Journal Sentinel found enough misreported cases in 2011 alone that violent crime would have increased 1.1 percent instead of falling 2.3 percent from the reported 2010 figures, which had their own errors,” the newspaper wrote.
Walker’s campaign pounced Wednesday, accusing Barrett of cooking the books on crime statistics.
On Thursday morning, the governor joined a chorus of city and state officials calling for an independent audit of the crime statistics.
Walker said the matter boils down to trust, not just in Milwaukee but in the state recall election.
“As a candidate, I think it’s important for the mayor of Milwaukee to acknowledge that on the one item he highlights as an example of leadership — the claim that violent crime has gone down in the city of Milwaukee — the facts now in this report show that’s not accurate,” the governor said during a news conference at the office of the Milwaukee Police Association. The union, which represents 1,700 law enforcement employees, has endorsed the governor in the June 5 election.
Barrett was on the defense at a news conference Thursday morning in Milwaukee, asserting there was no ill intent in data.
“Of course if the numbers are wrong we will correct them. I think that goes without saying,” Barrett said Thursday. “My concern really goes more to that the attacks on what is essentially the rank-and-file members of the Milwaukee Police Department.”
“You’ve got a governor of the state coming in to attack the Milwaukee Police Department,” Barrett added. “If he attacks the integrity of the Milwaukee Police Department, if he attacks the integrity of the beat cops or the supervisors or the chiefs, I will call him on that.”
Walker, standing before law enforcement officials, countered that the question was not about policing but rather about Barrett taking political credit for numbers that appear to be wrong.
“That’s important information for not only people across the state to know, but particularly for the citizens here in the city of Milwaukee,” Walker said.
“We should be able to question whether that’s an example of failed leadership in the city of Milwaukee.”
Michael Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, said he took no offense by the governor’s comments, and that he did not perceive Walker’s criticisms as an attack on front-line officers.
“I see it as an affront to police officers by the mayor even bringing that up,” he said. “Why the mayor would even suggest that is insulting.”
Crivello said he has asked police and city leadership for the better part of two years to check the numbers. He said said he has suspected the data hasn’t represented the real crime picture in the city, and that becomes a safety issue for the community and police.
“Nothing was taken seriously,” he said. That is until the newspaper’s crime report came this week.