I met Milwaukee Police Lieut. Sheronda Grant at District 3 headquarters on 49th and North. The district’s boundaries run from Center on the north, National Avenue on the south, west along Mayfair Road and east to 10th street. With a population of 81,000 residents, this district is diversified and includes Blacks, Hispanics and whites. District 3 struggles with a high crime rate. Grant is only 37 but has spent nearly 20 years with the Milwaukee Police Department.
Tell me a little about your history, where you grew up, your family background.
I was raised in the neighborhood of 8th and Ring, the inner city, just up the street from Burleigh. My mother, my sister and I lived on the second floor of a duplex that my great grandmother owned. She and other family members lived downstairs. My mom worked two jobs, but we had what I call a village, family members looking after one another. My grandmother, Ann Barclay, was a big influence in my life. Very strong woman. The neighborhood back then had a community vibe, neighbors friendly and engaged.
What was your schooling like?
I did grow up in an African-American neighborhood, but my mom made sure that my sister and I attended schools that were diverse. We were taught that there was not just one way of thinking or living. I went to Audubon Middle School and Hamilton High School both on the south side. It taught me that sometimes I might be the only Black female in a room, that there were not many kids who looked like me. This experience prepared me for when I got into law enforcement where Black women were scarce. I was building confidence at an early age without even knowing it. I found that I could get my thoughts and ideas across effectively.
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What about your parents and grandparents? Are they Milwaukee natives?
My great grandmother was from Louisiana. She and her husband moved to Milwaukee in 1940. My grandparents grew up in the 9th and Lloyd area not far from where I was raised.
What about your father?
My father was not in my life. He got addicted to crack cocaine and left the family when I was 5 years old. I never saw him. My mom worked two jobs at different factories. I got my work ethic from my mom. At one factory, she created a program for teen kids. At the age of 13, I worked a full time factory summer job, 40 hour shifts, making five dollars an hour. Good money, yes, but it taught me I didn’t want to do this kind of drudgery work as an adult.
What path did you take after you graduated from Hamilton High School?
Let me back up. In the sixth grade in math class, I was taught about statistics. There were negative statistics about African-Americans. I found out that Black students drop out of high school way more than white students. A lot of Black girls get pregnant and drop out at a higher rate than white girls. That fueled me to graduate and have a career in something. A woman police recruiter came to Hamilton High, but I was not a fan of police because of what I’d seen on the news, and I’d been aware of the Rodney King beating. My family members did not much like the police. I was almost thinking that all cops were like that, all cops were dirty. But the police recruiter was trying to get young people to join the police aide program. She said working in the police department had benefits like helping pay for higher education. I became a police aide at the age of 18.
You’ve worked for the police department for almost 20 years. What were some of jobs you held, how did you progress through the ranks?
For the first two years, I worked as a police aide in administration in forensics. I had a lot of good people above me who made sure I learned and did the right thing to help my career. I liked the work. What I really learned is that cops are just regular folks despite wearing the uniforms. After that, I moved onto District 4 where I worked in patrol on the streets for three years. I liked interacting with the residents and also having camaraderie with the law enforcement people who worked in the district. Think about this. I am out on patrol, and it can be dangerous. My life might be in the hands of whoever I am working with. That reliance builds good relationships. I liked the work so much that I did a lot of overtime because I wanted to learn everything and do it well.
You then got into undercover work, right? Working in plain clothes?
Yes. I was working undercover in the drug dealing unit. We got information about dealers and drug houses from various community groups. We did surveillance. We were trying to root out crime in neighborhoods where there were problems. I was actually going into residences and making drug purchases, crack, heroin, cocaine, etcetera. l was helping get those dealers out of the neighborhoods. I did this duty full-time for four years.
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You got all this experience in undercover, but yet you moved on again.
I became the recruiter for the Milwaukee Police Department. I did that job because I wanted to recruit 18 year olds to be police aides where they could learn about the agency. When they turn 21, they had the opportunity to go into the police academy. I would recruit the kids from McDonalds or Walmart where they were working. My goal was to help these kids get a responsible job and keep them from making the wrong life choices. I did recruiting work for six months and then got promoted to sergeant. I was assigned to patrol out of District 5 located at 4th and Locust. I did that job for 18 months, and then I worked 18 months at Internal Affairs where we investigated cops who violated the rules. After that assignment, I taught leadership at the Police Academy and helped train community safety officers.
You were then promoted to be the head of public relations for the entire Milwaukee Police Department.
That was in the downtown police headquarters. I was in that role for almost three years before I got promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to District 3 where I am now.
Seems like being head of public relations for the entire MPD would be a great job. Why did you go back to patrolling the streets?
Learning what I’d learned over the course of my career, I knew that being on patrol would allow me to have a greater impact on my officers and with the District 3 residents. I oversee the entire 2nd shift, 4 p.m. to midnight. For instance, if I am notified of a shooting or violent incident, I make sure that our investigative units are on the scene. I also make sure that all our officers are abiding my standard operating procedures. They’ve been doing a great job.
Your district has a variety of challenges including a high incidence of law-breaking activity.
Our officers do engage with residents who get into trouble. I just want to make sure that they interact with people respectfully. I’m very proud of this.
This is strictly anecdotal, but I’ve been walking the streets of the central city for quite a while, and I’d have to say there seems to be a better communication between police officers and residents in the past year or so.
I think you are right. For example, if a driver gets pulled over for running a red light, an officer will give that driver a ticket, but also try to remain civil, avoid confrontation. I call that behavior professional, and it goes a long way in keeping the streets safe. The goal is to practice restraint even if a person is emotional, angry, fiery. An officer needs to take the time and listen, deescalate the situation. The population of District 3 is 81,000. That’s a lot of folks to look out for.
Again, anecdotally, the white Milwaukee suburban residents have a prejudiced notion that the inner city is crime ridden and dangerous. Many suburbanites have told me they’d never dare venture into that area. My own experience is that probably 98 percent of central city residents don’t want crime in their neighborhoods. I’d like to see more of a bridging of racial differences, overcoming prejudice.
So would I. You know, I was the President of the League of Martin from 2016 to 2018. It’s a Black law enforcement organization in Milwaukee. I wanted to assist other minority people into becoming law enforcement officers. I believe that diversity and inclusion matters. I am also proud to say that I have assisted in helping African Americans, women, and other minorities become detectives and sergeants. I took this job in District 3 because I wanted to. My goal is to work with good people who keep the community safe.
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