MPD Traffic Citations Hit Minorities Heavily
Whites issued just 13% of traffic citations by Milwaukee Police in 2017.
The Milwaukee Police Department issued traffic citations to African-Americans in greatly disproportionate numbers last year, as it did in previous years, Municipal Court figures show.
Tickets in 69 percent of Municipal Court traffic cases were issued to African-American drivers, while just 13 percent went to white drivers, according to Municipal Court figures.
And while the 16 percent of tickets received by Latino drivers closely reflected their 18 percent share of the population, Latinos actually received more citations in 2017 than did white drivers, who are vastly underrepresented in traffic citations.
Latinos had 9,063 traffic citation cases, while whites, who account for nearly half of the city’s population, had just 7,682, or 13 percent of the total citation cases.
About 46 percent of the city is white and about 39 percent is African-American, according to 2012-2016 American Community Survey five-year estimates.
Ald. Michael Murphy, who provided the latest data, said he was surprised by the numbers and would investigate further. The city has to make sure its citizens are treated fairly, he said.
Municipal Court does not control the issuance of tickets, but the caseload reflects the volume being issued.
Since traffic tickets carry fines, the financial burden they create is borne mostly by African-Americans and Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods.
Residents in poorer zip codes are less likely to pay all of their forfeitures, according to the Municipal Court figures. In 53215, which has the highest payment rate, 44 percent of the total forfeitures levied were paid by mid-February of this year; in high-poverty 53206, which had the lowest level of forfeiture satisfaction, just 14 percent of the total due was paid.
Nonpayment of traffic citation forfeitures can result in suspension of a driver’s license for up to a year, meaning those people cannot drive to jobs they need to pay their forfeitures. Some will – and do – drive illegally.
In Milwaukee, unlike in some other municipal courts, driver’s license suspensions do not erase the debts, but are in addition to the money owed.
The number of traffic cases in Municipal Court is surging. Last year through March, there were 6,543 traffic citation cases; this year, there were 27,814 during the first three months.
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.