The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission (MHRC) is a multi-discipline, multi-agency commission that uses data driven approaches to understand and respond to city homicides. Building on a public health model that produced successful strategies like the Ceasefire Initiative and the High Point Drug Market Initiative, the MHRC develops innovative multi-agency prevention and response strategies to target resources and prevent homicides. According to a National Institute of Justice evaluation, the MHRC’s cross issue, cross sector prevention and response model was responsible for a 43 percent reduction in homicides when compared to control sites that did not use the model.
Beginning in late 1999 Milwaukee, Wisconsin saw its homicide rate rise. By 2001, the city was listed as one of the top 10 most dangerous U.S. cities with a population of 500,000 or more. In response to the rise in violent crime then-Mayor Tom Barrett, the Chief of Police and the Milwaukee County District Attorney assembled a working group of criminal justice and public health decision makers who were tasked with finding ways to attack this growing public safety problem. The working group developed a homicide review model which was designed to improve investigations and information sharing and to better understand the circumstances that were leading to homicides in Milwaukee. In 2005 this model would be housed in and formalized by the newly created Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission.
Headed by Dr. Mallory O’Brian, a trained epidemiologist, the MHRC has four grant funded employees who are responsible for convening stakeholders, maintaining a comprehensive and independent database of shootings/ homicides and working with stakeholders to support the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. The success of this model is due in part to its ability to leverage the collective efforts of almost 100 federal, state, local, non-profit, business and religious partners. For a list of regularly participating government partners click here.
These partnerships have helped reduce the average annual number of homicides from more than 140 in the early 1990’s to 80, a statistic that has been steady since 2008. In 2006 the success of the homicide review commission led to the development of non-fatal shooting and domestic violence reviews. Since their inception, these reviews have helped the commission and its stakeholders collect data, make recommendations and create alliances that have worked to address issues related to chronic offenders, retaliatory violence, unmet community/social service needs and reducing future victimization.
“The MHRC approach recognizes the broad range of groups that have a role in preventing and responding to violence—community based service providers, law enforcement, social and victim service agencies, state criminal justice agencies, locally elected officials, District Attorney’s and Courts—and involves all of them to develop and implement recommendations across the criminal justice system. OJA is pleased to be a partner with the Commission, and to leverage federal Byrne JAG, Project Safe Neighborhoods, and Violence Against Women Act dollars to support their efforts.” said John Murray, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (OJA).
Nuts and Bolts
Although the day-to-day function of the MHRC is run by its full time staff, the direction and recommendations of the Commission are provided by 25-30 senior level representatives that make up its governing boards and working group. This group of decision makers is responsible for taking the data and trends identified during reviews and turning them into substantive and actionable recommendations. These recommendations are often multi-faceted and require action from multiple partner agencies to meet identified outcomes.
The most common reviews are the Commission’s Criminal Justice Reviews which include both the non-fatal shooting and the homicide reviews. These reviews take place, at a minimum, on a monthly basis and focus on both open and closed homicides.
Reviews begin with a law enforcement and forensic review of the circumstances that surrounded the non-fatal shooting or homicide. After local law enforcement presents the basic facts of the case other partners share what they know about the victim or the perpetrator and any other relevant information like gang affiliation, involvement with social service providers, issues with substance abuse and criminal history. The extensive amount of data collected during these reviews allows MHRC staff to identify homicide and crime trends and create data driven recommendation for resource deployment. For Milwaukee’s social service providers, who often work with individuals that either knew the victims or may have been victimized themselves, the MHRC holds monthly meetings to review closed cases and examine the community level circumstances of homicide victims. These reviews are conducted in order to coordinate and leverage the efforts of the non-profit, social service, religious and educational institutions. Involving these stakeholders helps service providers stay appraised of current trends while helping to highlight areas where there may be unmet needs for services or educational outreach.
Data Driven Decision Making
Due to a robust database built from the demographic, geographic, law enforcement and court records used during reviews, MHRC staff are able to parse out trends relating to victims, neighborhoods, nature of offenses, relation to perpetrator, inciting incident and more. Using these data elements the Commission can then create specific recommendations to address these issues. In addition to creating recommendations for improving response and prevention initiatives the council regularly releases its data to the public in order to inform public safety and health campaigns, help law enforcement identify hot spots, help grant makers understand the issues and trends within the city and help service providers identify those most at risk of victimization. An example of the type of data released to the public can be found here.
According to Dr. O’Brian, “the work of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission has changed the perception of and response to homicides. Homicides are now considered a community issue that can be prevented. Through the Commission, public health and criminal justice stakeholders with distinct roles and perspectives come together to problem solve and identify system improvements that can reduce not only the occurrence of homicide but other forms of violence as well. The process makes the work of every agency proactive, and strategic.”
In addition to improved communication and information sharing, the commission has also seen many of its high level recommendations adopted by partnering agencies. Implemented recommendations include: the reinstatement of Maurice Pulley Jr. Witness Protection Program, the strengthening of nuisance abatement regulations, the creation of the Milwaukee County Offender Reentry Program (MCORP) and automatic social service referrals for child witnesses to homicide. To learn more about initiatives that have come from MHRC recommendations click here.
In 2010, using a U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant, the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission began offering training and technical assistance for localities looking to adopt their review model. In 2011 the MHRC began providing jurisdictions with training designed to build capacity around homicide and violence prevention. In addition to providing training around stakeholder’s engagement the MHRC also provides training around data collection and analysis. In 2012 the MHRC will be assisting Chicago, Illinois and New Orleans, Louisiana in creating their own review commissions and working with staff to implement the database necessary for data driven decision making.
To learn more about the MHRC’s training and technical assistance click here.