City’s $3.4 Million Settlement Will Cost More?
IT costs weren't factored into city settlement of ACLU suit, could increase price tag.
The Milwaukee Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett authorized a $3.4 million settlement Tuesday to end a class action lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, but the cost of complying with the settlement may be underestimated.
The suit alleged that Milwaukee police, under the direction of former chief Edward A. Flynn, engaged in a policy of “stop and frisks of Black and Latino people that involve racial and ethnic profiling, or are otherwise motivated by race and ethnicity, rather than reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct” that violated the 14th amendment of the US Consitution. The city did not admit guilt as part of the settlement, but did agree to change police policies.
The city will borrow $1.9 million to pay the legal fees of the ACLU’s national legal team and a maximum of $1.5 million will be spent on a consultant, the Crime and Justice Institute, over the next five years to monitor the city’s compliance. What’s left out is the associated information technology costs the Milwaukee Police Department will incur to update and integrate its record-keeping systems and the time it will take rank-and-file officers to comply with the data entry requirements.
MPD Inspector Terrence Gordon doesn’t think the department will need more funds to comply with the IT costs, but also admitted at a July 9th Common Council committee meeting that the settlement team had yet to talk to the Milwaukee Police Department’s information technology director.
In response to a question by Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs asking if the department could estimate the costs associated with the IT changes, Gordon told the Finance and Personnel Committee: “Not yet, because all of that is dependent on the language in the agreement. It has gone through a succession of drafts. It is in a format right now where we would be safe in meeting with our IT director. We don’t expect to have to ask for additional money, because there are ways to fund things like asset forfeiture, JAG grants if that ever gets freed up after the immigration discussion and things like that.”
Coggs did not ask a follow-up question on the matter before going into closed session, but Ald. Robert Donovan raised the issue at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting as part of a lengthy list of reasons for voting against the settlement. Donovan and Ald. Mark Borkowski were the only no votes on the settlement.
The scope of work required isn’t small. Six pages of the 49-page settlement detail specific procedures and system changes the police department must adopt, including linking all the department’s databases together so that information about a traffic stop can be queried as a single record with a substantial amount of data about the person stopped. In addition, requirements are in place that body camera footage be tied directly to the linked database records.
The settlement spells out the need for new user interfaces to accommodate the linked records as well as the development of a system to reject incomplete records and email officers on any records they need to finish. According to statements from various Common Council members, sloppy record keeping was one of the central elements that led to the settlement.
Last summer, the council temporarily held up the allocation of $1.1 million in federal asset forfeiture funds to the police department as a way to express displeasure with then-Chief Flynn. The department is able to spend the funds without council oversight, as it apparently intends to do on the ACLU settlement.
Should the costs come in higher than expected, the police department will need to push the city to turn again to borrowing to stay in compliance with the settlement. Facing increased pension costs and a decline in state aid, the mayor and Common Council passed a budget that eliminated 27 police officers through attrition for 2018 and are likely to have make difficult choices again for 2019.
The Milwaukee Police Department did not respond to a request for more information by the time of publication.
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