Art Howell smiles for a photo inside his office on Tuesday, his next-to-last day as the Racine's chief of police.
RACINE — When Art Howell joined the Racine Police Department, the city was entering one of its darkest times. Upon his retirement Wednesday after 37 years with the RPD, Racine has been experiencing record lows, year after year, in major crimes since Howell became chief of police.
Howell grew up on Davis Place, just south of Downtown Racine. As he was graduating from high school in 1980, a recession was sweeping across the Midwest. Stable industrial jobs went overseas or south of the border. Unemployment rates, especially among workers of color, shot up.
“All the jobs that the people in my neighborhood normally had,” Howell, who had worked at McDonald’s as a teenager, “they were gone.” His father was one of those who managed to maintain employment, at Case Corp.; one of the last things Howell cleaned out from his office this week was a toy Case tractor honoring his father, who died in 1995.
Hired at age 21 in 1984 by the Racine Police Department, the city was facing a crisis.
The crack cocaine epidemic arrived in the mid-1980s. It preceded what may have been the worst time in Racine’s history. Gangs, many of them coming south from Milwaukee or north from Chicago, set up shop in Racine: living expenses were lower and drugs could be sold for higher profit here, an inviting combination for vice.
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