Undeterred crime deters business

Pulling cops out of public schools was a crazy idea

By MIKE NICHOLS | January 27, 2022

Dale West is trying to do a good thing, exactly the sort of thing Milwaukee’s leaders – including members of the school board – ought to support in any way they can.

West opened an office for his Proximity Malt six years ago in a dicey Walkers Point neighborhood, back when nearby Bradley Tech High School had cops – school resource officers – roaming the hallways. The CEO, who describes himself as chief bottle washer, doesn’t have to be in the heart of a city where somebody shot the office door not long ago and where kids steal cars at an astounding rate just for fun.

There were 10,479 car thefts in Milwaukee in 2021 – including a particularly brazen one Dec. 7 in the alley behind Proximity. One of West’s sales guys had parked a rental car there so he and a co-worker could load up and deliver bags of malt to customers who brew the stuff that made Milwaukee famous.

They were only 10 or fifteen yards away from the car at the top of a ramp, but the thief was unfazed.

Security video showed the kid walking by coming from the direction of Bradley Tech and spotting two cars in the alley. With one of his little buddies waiting down on Pierce Street, the kid walked past Proximity’s open garage door, doubled back, pulled the sleeves of his coat down over his hands, slid into the front seat and took off.

He jacked a silver Nissan Versa from two grown men the way a bygone kid casually kicked a can. “It was not planned. It was totally spontaneous,” said West.

In the middle of the school day the day before, Bradley Tech had been locked down after shots were fired on or near the school grounds, according to media reports. West thinks that was the day someone shot up his door.

There were way more than double the number of car thefts last year than the year before. That’s at least 10,479 people who are probably wondering right now how to get out of Milwaukee, some of them wanting to take their businesses with them.

Proximity has factories in Colorado and Delaware. Several of their factories were built on elsewhere in repurposed sites. Their customers are all over the country. Proximity could be based anywhere. “We want to help areas that are trying to repurpose,” said West. “We want to be part of the solution rather than find another place.”

“We like it here. We want to stay here.” But, he says, he has talked to his board about what’s going on in the neighborhood and the reality is “if it continues, we will have to review it.”

What’s happening isn’t the fault of the cops. The cops, says West, “have been great and they understand the issue.”

The issue, it appears, is a crazy decision by the Milwaukee Public School Board back in 2016, right after Proximity moved into the neighborhood, to pull school resource officers out of its schools. There were complaints, it seems, about the cops arresting too many students.

“They used to have police in the school,” said West. “They lost any control over the kids when they kicked the police out. All they can do now is respond.”

For a few years after that, cops were allowed to patrol around some schools, monitor dismissals and attend some events, according to media reports. The School Board pulled the plug on all that in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident in 2020 in Minneapolis.

“The issue for us was ending those contracts and doing what our students want us to be doing,” the Board President at the time, Larry Miller, was quoted as saying.

Neither the principal at Bradley Tech nor a spokesman for the district returned our calls at the time of publication. But a police department spokesman confirmed that there are currently no police in Milwaukee Public Schools unless they are called to respond to an incident in the same way they are called anywhere else in the city.

I suppose that’s the way the students want it, but not the smart ones.

Normal districts not run by the loudest kids or the activists are different. The Green Bay Police Department has resource officers in all Green Bay Area Public School District schools, every day inside each of the four high schools, according to Lt. Brad Strouf.

The resource officers are aptly named. They know the kids and help them, Strouf says. They’re confidants. They provide a safe place for children to learn. They attend events. They are, he says, “absolutely” good for the students who want to learn, who want to grow up and be productive.

Way too many kids in Milwaukee will never have that kind of chance.

The Milwaukee Police have not arrested anyone in the Proximity carjacking, so it’s not clear the kid caught on camera was a Tech student. On Jan. 6, someone reported the Nissan crashed into a parked car near 16th and Burnham Streets, according to police reports.

What is clear is that parents and local businesses are worried about all the crime around Bradley Tech. This onetime place of promise was built and opened to help kids get jobs and maybe start their own businesses, not to drive those jobs and businesses away.

Mike Nichols is the president of the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.