Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (TFC)— In recent months, echoes of the opioid crisis throughout Milwaukee County have increasingly crept into the news. Each municipality is all too familiar with vague reports of heroin raids, fentanyl busts, and overdose clean ups. Whereas…
The drug war’s casualties reach far beyond bloated penitentiary yards, fractured rehab facilities, and its own endless perpetuation. America’s opioid crisis, and its scale, is straining police, the policed, and the decades old rhetoric between them.
Heroin use and overdose in particular is climbing, indiscriminately rocking towns with barbaric fervor. Milwaukee Wisconsin is no stranger, nor its numerous nearby suburbs–like Wauwatosa. Perhaps now is the time for law enforcement to consider drug enforcement nuances cropping up elsewhere in the country.
“888 bodies and counting”, a morbid but fitting title to a recent report by Milwaukee’s alderman’s office. In 14 pages, the document presents detailed analysis of a overdose plague striking the city. “Milwaukee county alone has seen a 495% increase in heroin related deaths between 2005-2015”, it reads. As a point of perspective, Milwaukee’s opioid deaths, heroin and others, exceed deaths by car accidents and homicide.
From 2004-2011, the Wauwatosa Police Department released yearly annual reports on its activities. The protocol wasn’t unusual, police normally provide some form of publicly available documentation. Of course, they don’t outline everything there is to know about a department, they’re simply transparent overviews.
In 2012, unlike other departments, Wauwatosa’s data never arrived to the city’s page. Around that time, the department cited challenges associated with a new report redaction policy it was forced to adopt. The policy, referenced in several Wauwatosa Now pieces, was enacted after a supreme court ruling on privacy rights.
A year later, Wauwatosa PD Captain Tim Sharpee said WPD was unable to do the redactions electronically. “So a clerk has to print out that report (and) redact all that information”, he said, alluding to the department’s lack of resources. In 2013, 10-13% of a department sworn for 94 officers left within a four month period. For a time, WPD claimed it lacked the manpower to process reports with the tedious methods available to them. It was assumed, but not entirely verified, that the annual’s were discontinued due to the same phenomenon that affected more regular reports.