By LaKeshia Myers
“Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes”—loosely translated means “beware of Greeks bringing gifts”. This is a warning I remember reading in my eighth grade English class as we studied Virgil’s Aeneid. It is also the first phrase that popped into my head when I heard of “Operation Relentless Pursuit” last Wednesday.
“Operation Relentless Pursuit” (OPR), the brainchild of Attorney Gen. William Barr, is a program aimed at lowering crime in seven U.S. cities: Detroit, Michigan; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Baltimore, Maryland; Cleveland, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri, Memphis, Tennessee; and Milwaukee.
According to Barr, the operation will involve increasing the number of federal law enforcement officers to the selected cities, as well as bulking up federal task forces through collaborative efforts with state and local law enforcement partners. The surge in federal agents will be complemented by a financial commitment of up to $71 million in federal grant funding that can be used to hire new officers, pay overtime and benefits, finance federally deputized task force officers, and provide mission-critical equipment and technology.
Seventy million dollars and the ability to increase the number of federal law enforcement officers makes me both skeptical and nervous. This tactic is from the playbook of the twentieth century, circa the late 1990s when local police departments were given millions of dollars to fight an uptick in crime. This infusion of cash laid the foundation for rogue policing, discriminatory practices such as “stop and frisk”, and poor neighborhoods being inundated with federal investigators who used paid informants to over-incarceration of African American men. It is already known how this “movie” ends—a ballooning incarceration rate, families torn apart, blighted neighborhoods, middle class flight to the suburbs and a dwindling tax base. There is no need to repeat this performance.
As a city of nearly 600,000 residents, we have experienced an increasingly low crime rate in recent years. We are on the cusp of a major transition and we have worked through the ills of the 1990s and 2000s and are just beginning to see the fruits of that labor. There is no need to go backward; I implore the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, and all federal agencies involved in the strategic planning and execution of “Operation Relentless Pursuit” to be willing to think outside of the box.
According to United States Attorney Matthew D. Krueger gun violence and opioid abuse will be the possible focus of ORP in Milwaukee. If this is the case, law enforcement agencies must broaden the radius of their ORP operation beyond Milwaukee’s city limits as the city has been inundated by opioid addicts from the surrounding counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee, and Washington purchasing drugs. This too, has strained our public safety budget and stands to reason that this be addressed from a regional perspective.
It is my hope that Milwaukee’s portion of the ORP grant is used to invest in preventative measures to aid the community. For example, increasing the number of “beat cops” that engage in neighborhood policing strategies and focus on traffic enforcement; building and maintaining Community Oriented Policing (COP) houses like those used in Racine; and fully funding proven programs like Program the Parks, Safe & Sound, and the Office of Violence Prevention’s violence interrupter program.
Law enforcement must beware of this $70 million gift horse; because we cannot afford to go back to the days of a militarized police force. The results were painful and they did nothing to improve the lives of city residents. Let this be a lesson to beware of individuals bringing gifts—especially $70 million gifts; because all money isn’t good money, sometimes money just buys control.