Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels blamed Gov. Tony Evers' "weak leadership" for rising crime and promised to work with law enforcement to curb violence if elected in the November midterm.
Evers and Michels are locked in a tight race with the Republican challenger up 50%-47% and holds a seven-point lead among independents, according to an AARP survey released last week. The two are scheduled to debate Oct. 14.
"We've had a tremendous spike in crime in this state in the last two years," Michels, an Army veteran, said. "One of the reasons we have this spike is because we have weak leadership in the governor's office right now."
The Evers campaign did not respond to a request for an interview.
DUELING WISCONSIN SENATE CANDIDATES WANT TO 'SUPPORT LAW ENFORCEMENT' IN KEY MIDTERM STATE
Wisconsin saw 321 homicides in 2021, reflecting a more than 70% increase since 2019, according to Wisconsin Department of Justice data. Aggravated assault rose 12% over the same period, but robberies dropped 10% and rapes remained about even.
A Politico/Morning Consult poll published Wednesday found that 94% of registered voters felt that crime was a problem in the U.S.
"It's so imperative for our communities to function properly, function safely," Michels said. "We are going to get rule of law back in the state of Wisconsin."
Michels called his Democratic rival soft on crime and criticized his response to the Kenosha riots in 2020. Evers, after the city fell into violence and destruction following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, didn't deploy the Nation Guard until 3 a.m.
The Republican also criticized Evers' parole policies that have allowed convicted felons out of prison early.
"Tony Evers made a campaign pledge four years ago to cut in half the prison population, and he's well on his way to doing that after last year," Michels said. "Society is not safer because of this mass release that Tony Evers has been doing."
WISCONSIN GOV. TONY EVERS PROPOSES 4% INCREASE INTO LOCAL FUNDING FOR PUBLIC SAFETY 5 WEEKS BEFORE ELECTION
Evers, as part of his 2018 campaign pledge to reform parole, promised to only release non-violent offenders early.
More than 880 criminals were released early for parole between 2019 and 2021, including 274 murderers or attempted murderers, according to Wisconsin Parole Commission data obtained by Wisconsin Right Now through an open records request.
"They're on the streets of Wisconsin today," Michels said.
CRIME TRUMPS ABORTION IN VOTER CONCERNS, GIVING GOP LARGEST LEAD ON ISSUE IN MORE THAN 30 YEARS: POLL
The Republican met with Wisconsin sheriffs in Green Bay on Sept. 30 to discuss methods for crime reduction. Oconto County Sheriff Todd Skarban told Fox News a rise in drug use, specifically fentanyl, has contributed to rising crime.
"Violent crime has increased exponentially," Skarban said. "When you have drugs in your community like that, it's going to increase property crime and increases violent crime."
Opioid drug deaths nationwide surpassed 70,000 in 2021, with all drug overdose deaths increasing by nearly 15% from 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skarban said overdose deaths have drastically risen in Oconto County.
WISCONSIN PARENTS LOSE SON TO FENTANYL, BEG OTHER FAMILIES TO KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT THE DEADLY DRUG
"It's unheard of, what we've seen in Oconto County, in my tenure of 25 years of working for the sheriff's office," Skarban said. He told Fox News law enforcement officials and state leaders should collaborate to address the spike in violence.
Milwaukee is one of five major U.S. cities on pace to surpass their homicide totals from 2021, according to crime data analyzed by Fox News. As of June, the Cream City was leading the pack with a 25% year-over-year increase.
"It's astronomical, a lot of the stuff that we're having to tackle today," Skarban said.
Michels told Fox News the "defund the police" movement worsened crime rates.
"Right now, there seems to be an attitude in society that less cops is better, or that police are bad," Michels said.
"We're going to have a cultural shift here in Wisconsin," Michels said. "I'm going to let everyone know that police are happy to be respected."