By Dennis Shook, for   Published Jun 16, 2006 at 5:03 AM
As of Wednesday, there had been 42 homicides in Milwaukee, compared with 50 at this time last year.

"That 42 is still too many," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Wednesday, but added the hope it could be the start of a downward trend.

Milwaukeeans have heard proposals from state, county and local officials to counter the violence problem, and on Monday a Common Council committee will consider a proposal to shift $750,000 from a contingency fund to pay for police recruit training. If it passes, the full council will decide on it during its regular meeting next Tuesday.

The focus on police presence comes as the FBI issued a report this week that said Milwaukee saw the biggest percentage increase in violent crime of any city over 250,000 in America last year, including Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles.

The mayor says he backs the use of more overtime by police, along with hiring 40 new officer positions.

A program designed to provide teens with summer jobs is another tool Barrett hopes will help reduce the violence that sometimes stems from young people having nothing to do during the summer.

"I am going to fight on every front," he said.

Barrett's using his bully pulpit to focus on the problem as well. In a call for a "Cease Fire Sabbath," Barrett visited three churches on Sunday to read a list of the homicide victims in Milwaukee from last June, a violent month in the city. And he pointed out that many of the dead were from the minority areas served by those very churches.

Barrett spoke at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, which is the home church of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, located downtown. He also spoke at two churches in the crime-ridden Sherman Park area, Sherman Park Lutheran and Holy Cathedral.

"Fellow Christians, it must end," Barrett said in his message. "We have to work together to end the violence in the city."

Barrett said he also stopped by other churches, such as one in a largely-Hispanic portion of the near south side. He said the parishioners said they had already heard the message of non-violence from their priest, as area priests were directed to address the topic by the archbishop.

"In those central city churches, when people realize what a high percentage of the list are young men of color, well, it's pretty dramatic," he said.

Yet with most of the summer remaining, Barrett acknowledges that actions speak louder than words.

Aside from instituting a jobs program, hiring new officers and using police overtime, Barrett's also looking at options like Ald. Terry Witkowski's plan to hire as many as 20 "community service officers" to perform such support tasks as investigating crashes, directing traffic, and even issuing citations, thereby freeing police to increase their presence in dangerous, high-crime areas.

Witkowski has called the plan "the future of policing in Milwaukee."

The plan has called for the civilians to be paid about $36,000, compared to more than $42,000 made by regular officers. But they would not be supplied with patrol cars, weapons, or handcuffs.

"I know the police and the police union are not in love with that plan," the mayor acknowledged.

But Barrett does not see the city filling as many vacancies as Milwaukee Police Chief Nanette Hegerty has said exist.

At a community meeting Monday in Bay View, Hegerty said she believes the answer is to fill most of those 200 vacancies.

"I can't keep up with attrition," she said.

Barrett counters, "That (200) number that is being bandied about is not particularly accurate. It is more important to look at the strength of the department over the last seven years and it has not markedly changed over the last seven years."

Barrett said he believes the gap in the force "is in the 30 to 40 (officers) range."

The mayor added he even supports rehiring some recently retired police officers to help with local law enforcement.

"But short of a return of federal dollars like during the Clinton years, it will be difficult to raise the $12 million" that such hirings would cost, he said.

Hegerty recently said the department will send "advance teams" of detectives into high-crime areas, followed by "enforcement teams" to make the police more visible in those areas.

Barrett said he believes that crime in Milwaukee is too high but the police force is not the only counter-measure.

"We could have 50,000 cops out there but if an angry ex-husband comes to a picnic to shoot his former wife, we could not stop that unless there was a cop sitting at the picnic table with them," he said.

Barrett will continue to preach peace and hope that his words will carry more weight than the bullets that sometimes fill the summer air.

"I want that list of names I read to get much smaller," Barrett says.