Wisconsin : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Wisconsin - state review
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sits on the western edge of Lake Michigan, just 90 minutes from Chicago, Illinois, to its south.
This is a die-hard sports town with a working-class population that loves hometown-brewed beer.
The winters of Milwaukee are bitterly cold, but the people here don’t seem to complain too much, and you might see them wearing shorts when the temperatures get above freezing.
These are tough-skinned people, but some of the nicest you’ll ever meet have that Midwestern charm.
Milwaukee is almost a tale of two (or more cities) with a heavy presence of Fortune 500 companies yet an average income of $43,000.
The city also boasts itself as a cultural city dating back to German immigrants, yet it is one of the most segregated cities in America when you look at the census data showing where cultural and ethnic groups live.
Water activities are a big deal here with those beautiful shores and water of Lake Michigan, but even in a harsh winter, you can still go ice fishing and enjoy the great outdoors.
Milwaukee also has its own cultural language and etiquette.
- A brat is NOT a hot dog.
- Water fountains are called “bubblers.”
- FIB is a term used to describe a dislike of people from Illinois, but I’m too much of a lady to explain what the letters mean. (HINT: There’s an F-bomb in there).
- People will wear large chunks of cheese hats, and you don’t dare say a thing about it.
Warnings & Dangers in Milwaukee
OVERALL RISK : HIGH
I loved the show Happy Days, and I have such an affinity for Milwaukee, which is why it makes me a little sad to tell you there's a medium to high risk. Violent crime is nearly five times the national average - robbery too. Theft is nearly NINE times higher than the national average. Is it too dangerous to visit? No way. However, this guide will help get you started in a safe direction.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Milwaukee is the hometown of Harley Davidson, so you're going to see a lot of hogs on the road. Public transportation is available to get around the city or the county. Use the Ride MTCS app to see the social shuttles available during the summer for all the lakefront festivals. Taxis (use TaxiMKE) and rideshares are available, with plenty of rental cars available. You can even take the Lake Express Ferry for a two-hour ride to Michigan. There are also Bublr Bikes (no, not the water fountain. That's a "bubbler"), which are ridesharing bikes available for rent.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
Surprisingly, with the extremely high theft rate, less than 100 pickpockets were reported in 2021. Maybe that's a case of people there knowing all the safety steps - carry only what you need, don't be distracted when in public, and keep your wallet or purse hidden from plain sight.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Milwaukee gets the best - and worst - of every season. This is a city where you can freeze to death in winter and suffer heatstroke in the summer. You could face a tornado in the spring or a blizzard in late fall. You should always be prepared for inclement or dangerous weather by reviewing the Milwaukee Emergency Management Plan.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
I can usually cushion the blow with facts like "the robbery rate is 4.7 times higher than the national average" by telling you how few actually happen in public. I can't do that here. 54% of robberies in Milwaukee are known as "Highway Robbery," which means against a person in a public space. This is a good time to remind you not to fight back against a robber if you are approached. Follow instructions and remember as much detail as possible for the police.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Chicago would be a much larger likely target than Milwaukee, but such a big city will also come with its own risks and security measures. The common saying is "See Something. Say Something," meaning you should report anything suspicious to local police, even if you aren't sure there's actually something to be worried about.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Milwaukee has the same residential scams, like fake police officers demanding money or scammers posing as utility company workers, threatening to shut off the heat if a person doesn't pay immediately. You shouldn't be too worried about this, but always be aware of deals that seem too good to be true.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
Statistically, women are more likely than men to be victims of violent crime, and the sexual assault rate is more than twice the national average. What isn't made clear in the crime data is what percentage was a domestic situation and which were random acts of violence. While there's a good chance it's a domestic violence issue for the majority, use extra caution and don't walk around by yourself at night.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations within a massive amount of water quality and treatment information. If you want to save time reading all the details, you can call the Customer Service line at 414-286-3710 if you have specific questions. However, if you want to read the details, there is a lot of great information about where the water comes from, how it's treated, lead and copper pipes concerns, etc.
Safest Places to Visit in Milwaukee
VisitMilwaukee is the official tourism website for the city, and it’s smart to use any website that is sponsored or produced by a location’s tourism bureau.
You’ll get verified links with the protection of personal information should you decide to share an email or purchase tickets.
Look on that website for “The Best of MKE” pass, which offers discounts on multiple attractions or at popular shopping and dining destinations.
One of the best parts about Milwaukee is that the whole city is a free tourist attraction.
The dynamic and unique architecture from various eras makes just walking down the street exciting.
You also have an abundance of walking and guided tours to see some of the architecture.
Types of tours include:
How can you visit a church from France without leaving Wisconsin?
Take a trip to St. Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University campus.
I don’t want to ruin the story, but this building came from the other side of the world, where it was built in the early 1400s and is still open for tourists and services.
The Harley Davidson Museum is one of the must-see stops in Milwaukee.
You can see everything from the oldest motorcycle known in existence to the future of the Harley brand and about 450 other artifacts in between.
You’ll learn how motorcycles are assembled and pick up a map of the best motorcycle rides in the region.
If you’re visiting during the warmer months, you’ll want to add a beach trip to your itinerary.
One of the most family-friendly beaches is Atwater Beach, while Bradford Beach received high accolades as one of the best city beaches by USA Today.
Grant’s Park, Lakeshore State Park, and Lake Park are just a few of the shorelines that are blended with wilderness areas, so you can hike and enjoy the water.
McKinley Marina is the only public boat launch location, with fishing and birding being two popular activities.
Milwaukee has a large Catholic population and has turned every Friday into a holiday for Fish Fry events.
While you can’t throw a rock without hitting a fish fry location, ask your hotel concierge where to get the best fish fry in your neighborhood.
The Milwaukee Art Museum will take your breath away before you even step inside.
Look for the Burke Brise Soleil to spread its wings.
You’ll learn more about this design and its purpose when you visit.
A final note – if someone tells you that you should visit “Tosa,” they are referring to the nearby city of Wauwatosa, which is just to the west of Milwaukee.
It’s filled with unique cafes, art, and shopping.
Places to Avoid in Milwaukee
Most of the dangerous parts of Milwaukee you won’t even see when you visit if you stick to the tourist areas.
Along the shoreline and neighboring communities, you’ll find lower crime areas.
The neighborhoods west of I-43 are among the most dangerous.
Metcalf Park, North Division, and Franklin Heights are the neighborhoods with the highest crime rates.
This isn’t a city where you should just hop in the car and drive around.
Stick to well-lit main roads and entertainment districts or public attractions.
That said, it’s not a case of violent criminals running the streets looking for a lost tourist to attack.
It’s a big city with big-city problems and systemic issues that lead to disenfranchised neighborhoods.
You also don’t want to treat poverty as a tourist attraction.
Milwaukee has almost a 25% poverty rate.
When I research cities, I see so many YouTube videos like “I Drove Through The Ghetto of XX City.”
Safety Tips for Traveling to Milwaukee
- The Milwaukee Police Department has one of the best crime mapping systems I’ve seen. It’s an interactive dashboard with a map, and you can click on different crime factors and see the spread of crimes throughout the area instead of just dots on a map. The table also displays how much crime is up or down from year to year or month to month.
- For those especially concerned about crime in their hotel area, look up the police precinct maps on the Milwaukee Police Department website. You can see the boundaries of the precincts with a phone number to call for more information.
- A couple of safety apps to download include MKE Mobile Action App and Milwaukee Crimestoppers app. Each of these will allow you to report information, from graffiti to crime tips, through your mobile device.
- Driving in Milwaukee can be a sport of its own, and not in a good way. If you manage to avoid your car getting stolen (which is nearly nine times higher than the national average), you’ll likely be sharing the road with excessive speeders and red-light runners. The problem was so bad that it forced the police department to create the Traffic Safety Unit. Hopefully, by the time you get there, the police will have cracked down on some of the issues, but just be aware when you’re driving and watch out for aggressive drivers.
- If you are renting a car, avoid Hyundais and Kias. Due to a technical loophole I won’t detail, it makes the cars easier to steal than many other models. This has been a trend across the country, but Milwaukee has been hit especially hard. If you need a jolt to reality on this issue – here you go – 12,300 cars were stolen in Milwaukee in 2021. That’s almost 34 cars a day.
- Every year the police department issues an annual report that details the challenges and successes of the previous year with raw crime data. This report is issued in April, so look for the most updated year.
- I’m a child of summer, so the thought of going to the lakefront in winter makes me shudder. However, Milwaukee people refuse to stay inside when it gets cold. The lakefront beaches are popular for frozen waterfalls and ice formations. Yeah, I’d even go to see that. BUT – I would bundle up. Cover your head, ears, fingers, and toes. If it’s below freezing, wrap a scarf around your face, too, so you don’t get frostbite. Know the signs of hypothermia and go inside to warm up once every 30 minutes or so at first.
- Most modern mobile devices will be WEA-activated to get emergency alerts about weather conditions. Make sure you have this enabled and that your phone allows location tracking. Otherwise, sign up for a weather app through a local television station (they are free) and enable emergency notifications. You need to be aware of any incoming weather here.
- Use the MKE Park app to get information about available parking spots, fees, and time limits when parking in Milwaukee. You can also sign up for parking text alerts. Those alerts are helpful when snow is falling because all the street parking rules change on different days and at different times. I swear, in some cities, it’s impossible to keep up with all the parking rules during snowstorms. However, it’s also the best way to get the roads cleared and safe for traffic, so you don’t want to ignore them (or be sideswiped by a snow plow). Using parking garages is a great way to avoid having to remember all the rules.
- Check the city’s social media pages for events happening during your visit. Throughout the year, Milwaukee hosts very fun events, from farmer’s markets to fireworks shows to music festivals. Be extra cautious of pickpocketers during these events. Anytime someone bumps into you, check your pockets or purse.
So... How Safe Is Milwaukee Really?
The police chief stated in the 2021 Annual Report, “Unfortunately, 2021 was also a challenging year, and many of the alarming crime trends we saw in 2020 continued this year.
Violent crime, reckless driving, auto theft, and community engagement were our priorities in 2021.”
Some of the crime data from Milwaukee is staggering to see at face value:
- Violent Crime: 4.5 times higher than the national average
- Robbery: 4.7 times higher than the national average
- Car Theft: 8.6 times higher than the national average & up 201% since 2010
- Homicides: Up 99% since 2010
- Aggravated Assault: Up 31% since 2010
Many crimes are disproportionately happening in neighborhoods of minorities.
In fact, a 2019 analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel showed that African Americans face a risk eight times higher than Caucasians of being shot and killed.
While there is a crime in Milwaukee at a concerning level, it’s not really a fight a tourist can see at face value as long as they don’t go looking for trouble.
Use big city common sense here and always be aware of your surroundings.
If you’re from another big city, there’s nothing in Milwaukee that will surprise you.
If you’re from a small town, don’t let the crime rate make you feel like the safety risk is too high.
The places you are most likely to visit are among the safest parts of town.
How Does Milwaukee Compare?
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- Visas - You'll need a U.S. Travel or Work Visa to get through Customs once you enter the United States. You can also check the U.S. State Department website to see if your country is one that allows consideration for a Visa Waiver - known as VWP. The State Department website also offers a Visa Wizard to identify what kind of Visa you need. Once you're in the U.S., you can travel freely between states without having to show ID.
- Currency - You'll use the U.S. Dollar currency (USD) here. You can exchange currency before you leave, at the airport, or at a local bank. There are ATMs in Milwaukee, though some people might refer to them as TYME machines ("Time Machines") based on a former brand name. It will not take you back or forth in time, obviously, but it's a reference you need to know - just in case.
- Weather - You'll want fully-insulated outerwear during the winter with snow boots or shoes with good traction. The temperatures can still be pretty cool or cold into spring and fall, but summers will be warmer with shorts and t-shirt weather. You should still bring a sweatshirt or jacket, as it's not as hot here as in some of the southern states.
- Airports - The Milwaukee Airport is less than 10 miles from downtown. Check the traffic maps to see if there is congestion before you head to the airport. You can also drive for about 90 minutes if you want to use one of the Chicago airports - Midway or O'Hare.
- Travel Insurance - We always recommend travel insurance for trips, especially if you are coming from abroad. Health insurance will cost you out of pocket if you don't have some form of accepted health insurance. Weather delays here can also lead to flight cancellations or backups in connecting cities.
Milwaukee Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Wisconsin - Safety by City