This is one in an occasional series of profiles on the people behind the scenes who make Milwaukee work.
Officer Juan López of the Milwaukee Police Department has deep roots in his adopted city.
“My family is from Puerto Rico and I was born on the East Coast, but I consider myself from Milwaukee,” said López, who has lived here since he was 6 years old.
López serves in District 2, which encompasses a 7.2-mile area on Milwaukee’s South Side. He originally patrolled the district in his squad car, but in 2008 the city instituted a plan called “Operation Impact” to help establish a stronger presence on the streets.
The program, privately funded by area businesses, also has provided additional security cameras, lighting and an armored surveillance truck nicknamed “Rhino.”
López’s responsibilities include patrolling on foot or bicycle, and simply interacting with citizens and business owners on his Mitchell Street beat. Dimity Grabowski, owner of Think Resale at 1017 West Mitchell St., said she always appreciates a visit from MPD officers such as López in her store.
“It gives the customer a sense of safety,” said Grabowski, who opened the store about two years ago.
Grabowski has gotten to know López through Operation Impact, and said she has seen the positive results of the program.
“It’s good for business, good for Mitchell St. and good for the customers,” Grabowski said.
López said programs such as Operation Impact reflect a trend of citizens working with police, which he would like to see continue. “A criminal element does not want to go to an area that is committed to keeping the community safe,” he noted.
Lopez said he favors efforts to interact more with citizens, partly to remove the “bad guy” stigma that comes with being a cop.
According to the City of Milwaukee, Operation Impact has had a significant effect on crime rates in District 2. In 2013 through Christmas Eve, instances of theft were down by 32 percent from 2007, the year before the plan was instituted. Assault offenses were down by almost 17 percent, and the number of robberies fell by 22 percent during the same period.
The Few. The Proud.
In addition to serving in the MPD, López is an active duty United States Marine Corps Reservist in his 21st year of service.
“All of the media attention goes to the military, but those of us who do both jobs realize that not enough attention is paid to police officers,” López said. “By far police work is more dangerous than being in the military.”
López said that the difference comes down to logistics.
“As an infantryman, you are generally patrolling in a 13-man squad,” he said. “So you have 12 other guys with you carrying semi-automatic rifles, fully automatic machine guns, and grenade launchers.”
As a police officer, backup is still available, but frequently officers work with a partner or independently.
“A lot of times you have to know that you are going to be out there by yourself, and you have to fall back on your training and your experiences,” López said.
According to Officer Manny Molina, López’s partner, this means being ready for anything, particularly on bike patrols in high-crime areas, as Molina and López have been doing for a couple years. Patrolling on bikes allows officers to be more easily accessible to citizens, but it also means they must remain on their toes.
“You could come around a corner and be in the middle of a fight,” Molina said. “Or someone could have a gun pulled on you.”
Having an experienced military member such as López around helps reassure Molina and allows them to work more effectively and safely together. “The average cop does not have that type of experience and he brings a lot to the department,” Molina said.