'We Should Never Make Peace With Trauma': Efforts To Reduce Milwaukee's Homicide Rate

Sep 10, 2019

Year after year, Milwaukee has its highest levels of violent crime in the summer. And by that measure, the city has been making some progress.

There were 10 homicides in the city of Milwaukee in August 2019 compared to 22 in August 2018. But the city has still experienced over 60 devastating homicides this year to date. 

Reggie Moore is director of the Milwaukee Health Department’s Office of Violence Prevention. He says the launch of the 414Life Blueprint for Peace in 2017 has successfully brought many segments of the community together to engage in violence prevention. 

But Moore also says there are obstacles, including getting people to believe that violence is preventable. 

"We have suffered with so much pain and trauma in our city for so long, that people almost made peace with trauma," says Moore. "And I would argue that we should never make peace with pain or trauma. We should do everything possible to prevent it."

One of the ways his office is working to prevent violence is through 414Life, a public health approach that looks at violence as a communicable disease. This includes 10 violence interrupters. He says they're health workers who are trained to de-escalate conflicts.

Several violence interrupters conduct outreach in Milwaukee.
Credit Milwaukee Health Department's Office of Violence Prevention

"[They] have the background and credibility to be able to predict where conflicts are brewing, to engage with individuals who are part of that conflict, and try to de-escalate a conflict before it escalates to the point of physical or gun violence," he says.

Violence interrupters have mediated about 64 conflicts in the street, and have taken on about 71 gunshot victims referred to the program by Froedtert Hospital.

"You may have a person on the street who may not be that receptive to that message, or may not be in a place where they want to change their life," says Moore. "But if you've been shot three or four times and you're laying in a hospital bed in recovery, you're more open to that message."

"So we want to do everything possible to stop that person from being re-injured, and number two, from feeling that that they now have to carry a gun or retaliate against the person who shot them," he explains.

Moore says the data and research his office is seeing — from places like St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis — is that the average cost of one victim and one perpetrator is $1 million.

"That involves the detective and investigative costs, the hospital costs. It involves the incarceration and prosecution of the perpetrator," Moore explains. "It also involves lost tax revenue of the person who is sent away to prison and the person who has to recover. And a lot of times there are public health costs in terms of hospital care because the person may be un- or under-insured."

Moore also says the number of people killed by daily gun violence quadruples the number of people killed in mass shootings in any given year.

He says both morally and fiscally, it's just a smart idea to invest in prevention. That means looking at both gun policy and the allocation of resources.

"Policy requests are absolutely important. We support universal background checks, we support red-flag laws," he says. "But we also need resources for comprehensive violence prevention strategies in local communities."