Wauwatosa, Wisconsin (Pontiac)— A single day in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin–June 15th–saw two heroin overdoses just blocks from one another. Opioid abuse and overdose is a ever growing problem in the suburb, particularly among teens. The overdose duo, and recent arrests, allude to a spreading problem not fully represented by city officials.
The Wauwatosa Police Department provides a local outlet–Wauwatosa Now–with small reports for public viewing. These brief summaries are consistent in their publication, generally speaking. Privacy laws, however, bar certain personal information from appearing in these reports.
Wauwatosa Now’s June 21st, 2017 report covered incidents dating back to the 11th. One day, the 15th, stuck out from that report’s flow of theft and warrant pickups. That day, in one of Tosa’s hottest residential and entertainment areas, saw two heroin overdoses.
One occurred in the 2200 block of 68th street, near a main section of restaurants, bars, and foot traffic. According to the report, a person veered off the road who’d taken heroin before driving. The subsequent overdose stripped them of their control of the wheel. The second, occurring four blocks away, wasn’t an OWI. Both resulted in narcotics arrests, and the fates and identities of the users are unknown.
Last month, WPD made at least one significant heroin and fentanyl seizure at Tosa’s Mayfair Mall. Officers reputedly discovered a car that was then linked to a Milwaukee stolen car report. Officers broke into the car and conducted a search while disabling spark plugs under the hood. When the driver, Amari Hamilton, arrived with a female passenger, officers jumped. Over 28 grams of Fentanyl, and 23 grams of heroin were recovered during a second search.
Around this time, TFC filed open records requests for Tosa PD’s yearly drug seizure reports for 2015, and 2016. The department provides a similar report publicly in it’s annual reports issued to the city page. However, WPD hasn’t consistently published annual reports since 2011. When the 2016 report was requested in 2017, WPD said it’s complete but had no time frame for publication. To date, the 2016 report hasn’t been released.
Annual reports feature an itemized (by drug type and amount) seizure report for a single unit. Tosa PD SOG (Special Operations Group) consists of 4 officers at best, though normally about 3. According to the report, SOG specializes in surveillance, drugs, vice crimes, and cell phone data “recovery and analysis”. Since its roster rotates every couple years, it’s unknown which officers are currently SOG.
Drug captures for this unit are summarized in the annual reports, though not for the entire department. When full drug captures for the prior two years were requested, WPD stated these reports “don’t exist”. Although it’s unlikely WPD isn’t keeping track of drug captures, the response demonstrates a lack of transparency in drug issues in Tosa.
TFC then reached out to Wauwatosa’s Health Department regarding local opioid use and overdoses. In response, officials said data is currently being pulled together and will be released at the end of the year. Thus, it’s difficult for residents or even journalists to get a full picture of Tosa’s opioid issues.
That’s a disturbing and dangerous suggestion, particularly with Milwaukee County currently suffering an opioid crisis. Like in much of the country, Milwaukee overdose deaths now outnumber more conventional “accidents” such as car crashes. In Wauwatosa, early anecdotes of teens using crack cocaine and opioids coincided with reports of overdoses, and increases in SOG drug captures. However, putting the picture fully in perspective is impossible with the limited information the city provides.
For further answers, TFC has reached out to both WPD spokespeople and the office of Mayor Kathy Ehley. The results of these inquiries will be featured in an upcoming piece. In the meantime, Wauwatosa’s opioid problems continue to be out of sight, out of mind.