Gretchen Schuldt
Court Watch

MPD Traffic Citations Hit Minorities Heavily

Whites issued just 13% of traffic citations by Milwaukee Police in 2017.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Apr 3rd, 2018 02:31 pm
Police Administration Building, 951 N. James Lovell St. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

Police Administration Building, 951 N. James Lovell St. Photo by Christopher Hillard.

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.

Minorities have borne the costs of Milwaukee traffic citations for years, as WJI reported previously. 

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.

12 thoughts on “Court Watch: MPD Traffic Citations Hit Minorities Heavily”

  1. Terry says:

    Of course this is true! Just ask anybody who isn’t white! The same is true for Wisconsin’s Jim Crow style enforcement of the state’s utterly failed and totally unwanted cannabis laws. African-Americans in Milwaukee are arrested at a rate of 10-1 for cannabis possession (why is this even still a “crime” in drunk as hell, opioid ravaged Wisconsin??) compared to whites, yet, USE RATES ARE THE SAME! That is the very definition of institutionalized racist enforcement of laws and Milwaukee and Wisconsin should be ashamed.

    Dump Walker 2018
    Dump ALL republicans

  2. mike says:

    I’d like to see this data broken down at the police district level, versus at the aggregate city level. The way the police districts are organized (more resources in neighborhoods with the highest rates of violent crime) means that there’s practically no police presence in the city’s safer neighborhoods. Police district 6, which is bay view and whole far south side, is massive geographically and has over 100K people living in it. Therefore, the police presence is spread really thin.

  3. Tom says:

    Shameful and disgusting. It’s even worse outside of Madison/Milwaukee. Like my racist brother always says when he is driving up north from Madison. “If I see a black guy in a car I know I have a free pass to speed the whole way!” And then he and all his fat, beer bellied racist friends and him just laugh and laugh. Ain’t racism and prejudice hilarious Wisconsin?

  4. Troll says:

    I would like to see the numbers divided by hetrosexuals versus homosexuals. This is a hunch but I am sure hetrosexual cops pull over more gay drivers.

  5. Lm says:

    Always complaining about whites. “Live you own lives and be happy. Whites didn’t rob my house. Tom you sound ridiculous don’t kiss up so hard.

    Dump Democrats

  6. Tim says:

    A red light camera or a speed camera would only send tickets to the car owners that run red lights and go more than 10 over the limit.

  7. Sam says:

    How do you address crime issues in a racially segregated community without having a racialized impact? Reckless driving is epidemic in Milwaukee, especially on the north and northwest sides, and realistically some enforcement of traffic laws is going to be needed to address it. At the same time, though, more poor people of color with unpaid citations isn’t going to make anyone safer.

  8. Ben says:

    I’m sure it has NOTHING to do with the amount of driving infractions occur. It is simply if you are white – you don’t get pulled over in Milwaukee.

    Damn white people – get out and stay out of fricken Milwaukee….

  9. PMD says:

    So white people don’t speed or commit driving infractions? Clearly you never spend any time in the North Shore suburbs, where a speeding SUV with a driver on a cell phone comes close to hitting me on a daily basis.

  10. Sam says:

    There is likely going to be some disparity in traffic citations in certain neighborhoods based on police presence alone (more cops=more citations).

    The question is where does that natural disparity end and racial profiling begin? I’d like to see the report and for what the traffic citations were for. That would give us better insight.

  11. mkwagner says:

    If as Ben and Sam said is true, greater police presence because of higher crime areas, I can’t help but wonder why are police focusing on traffic violations in these “high crime” neighborhoods. Which brings us to the argument that if police stop the minor stuff e.g. traffic violations, they will prevent the bigger stuff e.g. burglaries, shootings, theft etc. How is that working? Not so well, huh. That brings us to Community Policing, in which police officers partner with the community to make the community safer. The focus is not simply about enforcing rules and laws, though that is one of the tools used. It’s about working with the community to identify safety issues and together develop solutions.
    It is important to remember that History demonstrates that occupying forces never succeed for very long,

  12. Tom D says:

    Let’s do an informal poll! Have you ever committed a driving infraction and been pulled over? If so, what was the infraction, what was the result (ticket or something else?), and what is your race?

    I’ll start.

    My wife and I are white and live outside NY City. In 30+ years of marriage, we’ve never been cited for a traffic violation, but have been pulled over twice (once in NYS for speeding and once in NJ for making an illegal left turn). Both times, we were in the wrong (10+ mph over the limit and turning left at a “No Left Turn” sign which we just didn’t see). Both times we were respectful and acknowledged (and apologized for) our infraction. Both cops let us off without a ticket or even a written warning.

    Did we get off because we were lucky or because we are white? What is your experience?

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