Number of homicides and other crimes drops in Milwaukee

Buildings stand in the Milwaukee skyline on Sept. 6, 2022, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

Homicides were down in Milwaukee last year, along with five other categories of crime, according to new data released by the city’s police department.

The Milwaukee Police Department’s end-of-year statistics for 2023 show that homicides were down 21%. The department’s data showed 169 homicides in 2023 compared to 215 in 2022.

Milwaukee also saw a 23% drop in vehicle thefts and a 22% drop in arson in 2023. Thefts dropped 8%, while aggravated assaults declined by 4%. Nonfatal shootings dropped by 4% as well, and instances of rape recorded by police were also down, though only by 1%.

There were four categories that showed an increase: Instances of human trafficking were up 17%, carjackings were up 16%, burglaries ticked up by 4%, and robberies showed a 7% increase.

For homicides in particular, Milwaukee joins many other American cities in experiencing a downward trend. In 90 cities tracked by AH Datalytics, homicides were down on average by 12.3%.

This drop in Milwaukee and other cities is mostly at odds with Americans’ perceptions of crime in their communities. A Gallup report published in November showed 63% of Americans described crime as an extremely or very serious problem, up from 54% in 2021. The same report indicated 77% of Americans believe crime increased in the prior year.

While the sharp drop in homicides in Milwaukee is noteworthy, it is also true that the number of homicides there hit a peak in 2022, and rates have not yet dropped to pre-pandemic levels. Crime spiked across the country during the pandemic, although generally to levels that were still below record-high crime levels in the 1990s. The reasons for the recent spike have been difficult to ascertain, one criminologist told California public radio station KQED in 2022.

​​“When you see nearly every city go up like we did in 2020, it’s really difficult under those conditions to attribute the increase to any particular policy in any particular city,” University of Missouri criminologist Robert Rosenfeld told KQED. “Everybody was going up.”

In Milwaukee, Sojourner Family Peace Center president Carmen Pitre told Wisconsin Public Radio that even one homicide is too many.

“These families’ lives are never the same. They’ll never have another holiday, birthday or event where they won’t be missing someone,” Pitre said.

Milwaukee’s mayor said the new downward trajectory is still encouraging.

“I am very happy that we were able to snap that unfortunate trend that we had been seeing,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said, according to WPR.

The decline in homicide numbers has come amid new measures the city is taking to address violence, WPR reported, including the Safer City MKE initiative that aims to encourage youth to stay off the streets during the summer, when violence often spikes. The initiative offers a variety of recreational activities and summer jobs as a means of providing young people in Milwaukee with “positive activities” during the summer months.The city also held its first Milwaukee Peace Week in 2023, which included a “peace walk” in which city leaders toured the city’s south side, a “peace pledge” event at a city middle school, and a gun violence summit that included both survivors of gun violence and experts.