Milwaukee may face surge in police retirements

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The City of Milwaukee may face a surge in police officer retirements.

Some 339 officers with the Milwaukee Police Department will be eligible to retire by the end of 2017. That means nearly 20% of the city’s 1,889 sworn police officers could retire over the next 18 months.

“It’s certainly not a revelation,” said Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association. “For years, I have been preaching to the Fire and Police Commission, the Common Council, and the mayor’s office that this would happen.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city has been closely tracking officer retirement numbers for years, and considers retirements when hiring new officers.

“We are well aware of the fact that there are going to be a significant number of people eligible for retirement, and that goes directly into our budget planning process,” Barrett said.

The mayor said he anticipates the city will hire more new police officers to cover those retiring, but added that the total number of officers may not increase.

Sworn police are eligible to retire at age 57, or after 25 years of service.

The possible wave of retirements is linked in part to a surge in officer hirings in the early and mid-1990s. At that time, the city had to “catch up because the city had allowed the staffing levels to fall so low,” Crivello said.

He urged city officials to give incentives for officers to stay by offering more support, such as increasing staffing levels, adding that too many officers are unable to get time off when they request it.

The state Supreme Court ruling on police residency requirements, which is to be released Thursday, could aid in retention efforts if it determines that officers cannot be required to live in the city, Crivello said.

“I think that will help us, I know that will help us, retain some officers,” he said. “So that’s a good thing for us.”

Republicans who control the Legislature included a provision in the state budget in 2013 prohibiting local governments from maintaining residency rules, other than those requiring police and firefighters to live within 15 miles of their borders. That conflicted with Milwaukee’s policy, enacted in 1938, requiring employees to live within the city.

City officials at the time argued that they could continue to enforce the policy under the “home rule” provision of the state constitution.

The Milwaukee Police Association brought a lawsuit against the city that was later joined by the Milwaukee Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 215. The city halted the residency rule while the case continued.

Like the Milwaukee public safety unions, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association supports the 2013 law limiting the ability of local governments to set residency requirements.

A Milwaukee County circuit judge in 2014 sided with the city unions anddetermined the state residency law trumped the city rule.

But in July, the 1st District Court of Appeals reinstated the city’s residency rule.

The unions appealed, and the state Supreme Court is expected to release its decision Thursday.

Wisconsin’s constitution provides that state laws must yield to local ordinances unless they involve matters of statewide concern and uniformly affect all cities and villages. The appeals court decision found the 2013 law was not of statewide concern and did not affect all municipalities equally because it would have an “outsize impact” on Milwaukee because of its hit to the city’s neighborhoods and economy.

But the attorney for the unions contended residency requirements were an issue of statewide concern because lawmakers have an interest in addressing the welfare of municipal employees and make sure they are treated fairly.

Milwaukee’s deputy city attorney, Miriam Horwitz, argued the issue was strictly local, saying each municipality had unique reasons for establishing residency requirements that vary considerably from one community to another.

The city agreed to stop enforcing the residency rule after the lawsuit was filed, and hundreds of Milwaukee employees now live outside the city. Officials have said they will again enforce the residency rule if they prevail before the state Supreme Court.