Common Ground: Milwaukee’s New Approach to Crime Prevention

by Janice Christensen

David Kennedy is coming back to Milwaukee.

His first visit here was as the featured speaker at Mayor Barrett’s Common Ground Collaborative Meeting on March 9, when he proposed a new approach to crime prevention in the city.

The Common Ground initiative is designed to shut down street-level drug dealing – by making dealers an offer they can’t refuse. The community, social services, employers and law enforcement band together to offer low-level offenders a choice: take the opportunity to become law-abiding citizens or go to jail. This removes the street-level players and the whole underground economy is disrupted to the point where it no longer can function.

The program was piloted in Boston more than ten years ago, and has since been instituted in Minneapolis, Chicago and smaller cities in North Carolina, Rhode Island and elsewhere

Since March, city and law enforcement officials have been strategizing how the program is going to look in Milwaukee.

As this issue of the Currents goes to press, two meetings are being planned to kick off the next phase of the program. On June 28, members of the various law enforcement communities will meet with Kennedy for consultation and decision-making.

“The investigation has started,” said Assistant District Attorney Jacob Corr, “and there’s lots to investigate. We need Mr. Kennedy’s help in deciding how to parse the information.”

A meeting set for June 29 aims to bring together Community Based and Faith Based Organizations. These groups will meet with Kennedy to begin the planning the social change components of the program.

So far the major decision that has been made concerning the program is its initial target area. It will be bounded by the river on the east, Holton on the west, Keefe on the north and North Ave. on the south.

In other words, roughly the Riverwest neighborhood.

District 5 Captain Tony Smith believes that Riverwest is the best place to begin working with the Common Ground program, because of the level of social activism – and the types of crime – in the neighborhood.

What does the Common Ground timeline look like? According to Corr: “We hope to have systems in place by early fall.”

For information on how the program has worked in other cities, check out these links:
Wall Street Journal Article
Kennedy Testimony

Riverwest Currents online edition – July, 2007