Michels and Kleefisch, Republicans running for governor, call for more police after shootings near Deer District

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Republicans running for governor called for cracking down on gun violence Monday after 21 people were injured in three shootings near Milwaukee's crowded Deer District.

Construction business owner Tim Michels announced if he wins the race he will fire Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, hire more prosecutors, increase penalties for felons caught with guns and build a $350 million prison.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch held a news conference outside Fiserv Forum to tout plans she released months ago to fire Chisholm, hire 1,000 cops around the state and tap the State Patrol to help local law enforcement.

"We need Milwaukee to be a safe place for families, the Deer District to be a destination and not the fear district anymore," Kleefisch said.

While the Republicans pushed for more policing, they steered away from increasing background checks for gun purchases.

Subscribe to our On Wisconsin Politics newsletter for the week's political news explained.

A trio of shootings occurred Friday near the Deer District after 11,000 people gathered to watch Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics. Seventeen people were injured in one incident alone.

Michels and Kleefisch offered their plans as they gear up for the Republican Party's state convention in Middleton this weekend. They and other Republicans have made addressing crime a top issue in their campaigns.

Also running for governor are management consultant Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Tim Michels of Campbellsport.

The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.

More: Business sluggish at Deer District-area bars two days after shootings that injured 21 following Bucks game

Evers has provided more than $100 million to law enforcement agencies, public safety programs and violence-prevention efforts using federal funds meant to help states recover from the coronavirus pandemic. He has called on lawmakers to provide more permanent funding to local governments to help cover policing costs.

"The governor’s investments are helping tackle the root causes of crime and investing in proven, community-based solutions across Wisconsin," Evers campaign spokeswoman Kayla Anderson said in a statement.

Michels, Kleefisch and Nicholson have pushed to have Chisholm step down or be fired. One of Chisholm's assistant district attorneys recommended bail of $1,000 for Darrell Brooks when he was charged with punching a woman in the face and running over her with his SUV.

Brooks is now accused of driving through the Waukesha Christmas Parade, killing six and injuring dozens of others. The incident happened five days after he was released on bail in the Milwaukee County case.

More: How police, prosecutors and courts across three states failed to hold Darrell Brooks accountable

It’s not clear how Michels or Kleefisch could fire Chisholm on their first day in office. State law allows governors to remove district attorneys but only if they receive a formal complaint, hold a hearing and determine there is sufficient reason to unseat the prosecutor.

In a statement, Nicholson on Monday blamed crime in Milwaukee on Evers, Chisholm and Attorney General Josh Kaul. All three are Democrats.

"We’re seeing the fundamental dissolution of law and order right before our eyes," Nicholson said in his statement. "Governor Evers, Attorney General Kaul and District Attorney John Chisholm have let lawlessness fester — and the rest of us are sick of it."

In March, Nicholson called for establishing mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory bail amounts and establishing a law enforcement liaison in the governor’s office.

Michels on Monday said if elected he would create incentives for hiring more police officers, establish mandatory two-year sentences for felons who are caught possessing guns, speed up trials, expand efforts to prosecute riot organizers and make more information available online about the records of judges and prosecutors. He said he wanted to reduce state aid to communities that cut their police budgets.

"Wisconsin is on the wrong track and I will work with any willing partners to fix the mess created by generations of politicians who have accepted no for an answer," Michels said in a statement.

Michels said he also backed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow judges to consider more factors when imposing bail.

In addition, Michels called for replacing the Green Bay Correctional Institution, which dates to the late 19th century. Building a new prison is expected to cost as much as $350 million, according to state officials.

As part of his plan, Michels would hire more prosecutors, public defenders and judges so cases could move faster. Michels did not say how many people he wanted to hire or what it would cost.

He said he would encourage the hiring of more police officers but did not say whether he would provide more funding for such efforts.

Citing the arson and looting in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in 2020, Michels said he would create a special counsel that could bring civil actions against anyone who participated in riots or mob activity.

Police and prosecutors should focus on those who orchestrated riots like those involved in organized crime, he said.

Michels proposed creating a specialized prosecutorial unit to deal with mob violence and said he would form a quick-reaction force within the National Guard to put down riots.

During her news conference, Kleefisch didn't say how she would fund the hiring of 1,000 cops but suggested money might flow through the state Department of Justice. She noted the state has a record surplus.

"We've got $3.8 billion on the bottom line right now. And so there's ample enough funding that we can tie this to state aid or do a grant program through DOJ," she said.

Kleefisch did not specifically answer questions from reporters about a proposed half-cent sales tax to fund public safety, which Milwaukee officials have been calling for in recent years.

Kleefisch said it's a question of priorities and accused Democrats of catering to their "woke fringe leftist friends."

"We're going to put our priorities in the right order, not the wrong order," Kleefisch said. "This is not about more money. This is about putting money where it is needed most badly, and that is protecting the families of Milwaukee."

She added, "Money can be moved around based on priorities."

The police department's sworn strength has been dropping due to Milwaukee's looming budget crisis as the city contends with a spike in pension payments.

Kleefisch pushed back against calls for tightening gun laws through measures like universal background checks and red-flag laws, saying, "We have good gun laws on the books."

"But when you have a county courthouse that is not enforcing these gun laws, I got a problem with that," she said.

Evers has long pushed for universal background checks. Kleefisch, Nicholson and Ramthun have opposed more background checks and have backed allowing state residents to carry concealed weapons without having to get permits.

Michels, the latest entrant in the race for governor, hasn't weighed in on those issues. He has not agreed to an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel since he got in the race three weeks ago.

Kleefisch noted Milwaukee is competing with Nashville to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. Shootings like those that occurred Friday could hurt Milwaukee's chances, she said.

"You know, we have big, big convention business on the line right now," she said. "And when stuff like this makes national news, it's no good for the City of Milwaukee. It's not good for economic development, bringing more jobs down here. It's not good for all the business owners in downtown Milwaukee. We're supposed to be the festival city."

Richard Walters, senior adviser with the Republican National Committee, said RNC delegates will be safe wherever the convention is held.

"The Site Selection Committee members have had high level and in-depth conversations with law enforcement officials in both Milwaukee and Nashville and we are confident in the abilities of each city to offer a secure, safe convention for our attendees," Walters said in a statement.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Michels, Kleefisch call for more police after shootings