Police Stops Still Biased, Report Shows

Milwaukee Police stop Blacks eight times more often than whites, Crime and Justice Institute finds.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Sep 26th, 2020 02:11 pm
A Milwaukee Police Department officer pulls over a driver on N. Broadway. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Milwaukee Police Department officer pulls over a driver on N. Broadway. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee police continue to stop and frisk Black and Latinx people with far more frequency than they do White people, according to a new report.

The Police Department and other city agencies also have not implemented reforms they promised to make as part of a 2018 settlement of a lawsuit, according to the report from the organization monitoring the settlement.

“Though the defendants successfully established the foundation needed for reforms, our analysis reported here is concerning and behaviors on the street must change in Milwaukee,” wrote  Christine M. Cole, executive director of the organization, the Crime and Justice Institute, in its second annual report on the settlement.

As part of the settlement to a federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Wisconsin, the national ACLU and the law firm of Covington and Burling, the Police Department, the Fire and Police Commission, and the city agreed to undertake a number of reforms, including an end to race-based pedestrian and traffic stops.

The numbers indicate that hasn’t happened.

“The latest report concludes that the Milwaukee Police Department continues to subject Black people to stops and frisks at significantly higher rates than White people,” said Karyn Rotker, staff attorney for the ACLU of Wisconsin. “On some metrics, Latinx residents are also being targeted by MPD officers at higher rates than White residents.”

The report shows that Black drivers were eight times more likely to get stopped by police than were white people, five times as likely to have been stopped for field interviews, and eight times as likely to be frisked. Latinx drivers were two times more likely to be stopped as white people and 30 percent more likely to be frisked, according to the ACLU.

The report said significant personnel turnover within the Police Department likely slowed settlement implementation.

“MPD now has a project planning system in place so MPD can hold responsible parties accountable in managing efforts related to the settlement agreement,” the report said.

The Fire and Police Commission, however, has not even developed a plan for implementing its components of the settlement, including specific audits, the report said.  The commission has established a standing committee to oversee implementation, but committee meetings are routinely cancelled.

The lack of specific plans, assignments, and timelines “hindered both agencies from making more progress in some areas,” the report said.

Both the Police Department and FPC have shown “a genuine desire” to comply with the settlement’s requirements, the report said.  The Crime and Justice Institute remains concerned, however, whether the city is devoting enough resources to settlement implementation, the report said.

“Evidence of biased policing in Milwaukee continues to be a significant concern,” it said. “Behavior changes on the part of patrol officers and more intensive and effective supervision of those officers are critical to these efforts.”

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.”

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