Milwaukee mayoral candidates traded shots during a debate Monday over which of the two voted to fund or defund the police.

Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson fired the first volley at former Ald. Bob Donovan, criticizing him for voting against the city’s police budget during the four years they both served on the common council.

“So if you’re not funding the department, then you’re effectively defunding the department,” he said at the debate, hosted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Greater Milwaukee Committee and Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “So, Bob, you voted to defund the police actually over the course of the four years that we overlapped on the city council while I funded the police.”

Donovan, who is endorsed by several former police officers, laughed off the attack, adding he voted against the budgets because they cut police manpower.

“Alderman Johnson, Cavalier, is attempting to pick me as anti-cop,” he laughed. “That’s a good one. I can’t wait to see that commercial.”

Johnson said the record speaks for itself and Donovan can spin his votes however he wants.

“But the fact of the matter is that you’re either voting for the police budget or you’re voting against the police budget,” he said.

Johnson added he voted in favor of every police budget that came before him during his four years on the common council.

The two also differed on whether to fund the city’s Office of Violence Prevention as a way to address violent crime.

On the heels of back to back record-breaking years for homicides in Milwaukee, Donovan said he’s not convinced the Office of Violence Prevention deserves more funding. He said soft-on-crime policies have given criminals a feeling of invulnerability to the justice system, adding the city needs to put more pressure on judges, district attorneys and court commissioners to hold them accountable.

“I am wholeheartedly supportive of preventing violence, ” he said. “I am not convinced, however, that we need to fund agencies that can’t prove to us how successful they’ve been in the accomplishment of their mission.”

Johnson argued the office does help reduce violence, even if it’s harder to determine how much it’s helped.

“Just because you’re not able to put down everyone’s name that you had an interaction with to quantify it that way doesn’t mean it’s not effective,” he said. “It certainly is.”

He also said the office is largely funded by the federal government, not the city. Aside from the federal funding, Johnson said the office helps save residents money by reducing violent crime from happening in the first place and reducing the need for police, fire and health care resources to respond to incidents.

Watch the debate at WisconsinEye.

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