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Stop-and-Frisk Continues: Reports says Milwaukee Police have not complied with lawsuit settlement

The Milwaukee Police Department continues to stop and frisk people in a racially discriminatory manner, and is still not compliant with key requirements of its 2018 Settlement Agreement, according to the latest annual report released on September 22 from the Crime and Justice Institute, the consultant overseeing the settlement of the Collins v. City of Milwaukee case.

As part of the settlement, the MPD agreed to end the practice of racially-biased stop-and-frisk. The MPD, as well as the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and the City, also agreed to a series of other reforms. The settlement came after a 2017 lawsuit by nine Black and Brown Milwaukee residents, represented by the ACLU of Wisconsin, national ACLU, and the law firm of Covington and Burling LLP, which showed that Black and Brown people in Milwaukee were being unconstitutionally and disproportionately stopped by police.

“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.”

Statistics from the “Analysis of 2019 Traffic Stops, Field Interviews, No-action Encounters, and Frisks” Report attached to CJI’s main report show that Black residents continue to be stopped and frisked at higher rates than persons of other races. For example, Black drivers were still 8.4 times more likely to get stopped by police than white people, 5.16 times as likely to have been stopped for field interviews, and 7.86 times as likely to be frisked. Latinx drivers are 2.4 times more likely to be stopped as white people and 1.3 times as likely to be frisked.

More broadly, the report indicates that neither the City nor the department as a whole has made compliance with the settlement a priority. Officers are not being adequately supervised, the Fire and Police Commision is not conducting regular audits or providing proper oversight, and proactive police engagement with the community has been slow to materialize.

“The racial disparities in stops and frisks are only minimally better with respect to field interviews and are now significantly worse with respect to traffic stops. MPD’s failure to enforce the law in an equitable and unbiased way is just more proof that the policing system needs to be overhauled,” said Jason Williamson, deputy director of the ACLU’s criminal reform project. “ Unless the Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission, and the City come together and make compliance a priority, Black and Brown people will continue to be the target of MPD’s racially discriminatory policies.”

Milwaukee did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, but resolving the case spared taxpayers millions of dollars more to continue the litigation. The settlement calls for the department to document every time they stop and frisk someone and explain the reason why. They would also have to collect demographic information on the stops. Officers will also receive training, monitoring, and supervision on racial profiling.

The $3.4 million included $1.5 million for an independent consultant to monitor the department’s progress in identifying unlawful stops and disciplining officers for racial profiling. The rest of the settlement money, $1.9 million, went to attorney fees and the residents who brought the suit.

According to the original lawsuit, Milwaukee police began conducting more pedestrian and traffic stops in 2008 under the directive of then-Chief Edward Flynn, who retired in February 2018. While Flynn denied his department had a stop-and-frisk program, he insisted that traffic stops in “high crime areas” reduced crime. Most of the stops were concentrated in areas largely populated by minorities, including the predominantly black neighborhoods in the north of the city.

The settlement was the latest instance in which the city had to pay millions to end lawsuits alleging officer misconduct against minorities. In 2017, Milwaukee paid $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill black man fatally shot by a police officer after the officer roused him from a park bench in downtown’s Red Arrow Park. In 2016, the city paid $5 million to settle a lawsuit by 74 black residents who said police illegally strip-searched them between 2008 and 2012.

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Lee Matz and Dаrrеn Hаuck

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