Stop-and-Frisk Settlement in Milwaukee Lawsuit Is a Wakeup Call for Police Nationwide


By Nusrat Choudhury

In a banner day for police reform, the city of Milwaukee has entered into a settlement agreement to end practices amounting to a decade-long stop-and-frisk program that resulted in hundreds of thousands of baseless stops as well as racial and ethnic profiling of Black and Latino people citywide. The agreement provides a roadmap for how the Milwaukee Police Department and Fire and Police Commission must reform to protect the constitutional rights of the people they serve.

The reforms are local, but the implications are national. This settlement sends a signal to police departments across the country about how to remedy stop-and-frisk practices that wrongfully criminalize people of color.

The reforms in Milwaukee are the result of the settlement of Collins v. City of Milwaukee, a 2017 lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP on behalf of Black and Latino people, including a military veteran, a grandmother, students, and a state legislator. Each of the plaintiffs was stopped or stopped and frisked by Milwaukee police when doing nothing wrong.

Our plaintiffs were not alone.

The ACLU has documented that Milwaukee police target Black and Latino people for baseless stops. Adding to this documentation, expert evidence in the Collins case showed that Milwaukee police conducted hundreds of thousands of pedestrian and traffic stops between 2010 and 2017 without the reasonable suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment. Another expert report in the case found that traffic and pedestrian stop rates in Milwaukee were more than six times higher for Black people than for white people, even after accounting for crime rates and additional factors other than race and ethnicity that could impact those stop rates.

After a year and a half of litigation, the plaintiffs have achieved a settlement that requires a decisive shift towards measures to promote evidence-based and bias-free policing.  These changes are overdue in a city where Black and Latino people have long protested being singled out for unlawful police stops and frisks when going about their daily lives.

The settlement mandates reforms that are expansive and profound. It requires the overhaul of how police conduct and report stops and frisks in Milwaukee. The settlement also compels the city to take concrete steps to ensure that police stops and frisks are supervised and monitored and that officers who conduct unlawful encounters are counseled, retrained, or disciplined. And the City must sustain the Community Collaborative Committee, a group of community members who will meet regularly with Milwaukee police and the City’s Fire and Police Commission to provide input on policing strategies and their impact on the public.

Cities and towns across the United States should do what Milwaukee is now required by the settlement to do — conduct internal and external audits to ensure that stops and frisks are supported by the reasonable suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment. If stops and frisks do not meet this standard, officers must be disciplined for violating the Constitution. Only a true embrace of evidence-based policing and accountability measures can guard against policing based on bias in violation of the 14th Amendment’s basic guarantee of equal protection of the law.  And to work for all of us, policing depends on law enforcement efforts based on evidence, not stereotypes or bias.

Milwaukee now joins other cities that have embarked on stop-and-frisk reform, either as a result of litigation or in response to calls by communities of color for evidence-based policing. These include Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, where community activism and multiple lawsuits have brought about significant reforms (see here, here and here). The wide-ranging reforms resulting from this case add to this wave of change and reflect a rightminded discrediting of the use of vast numbers of baseless stops and frisks as a law enforcement tool.

Enforcing the reforms in Collins v. Milwaukee in the coming years will require continued vigilance by the courageous plaintiffs in this case and the broader community of Black and Latino people impacted by stop and frisk, as has been true in New York and Chicago. But it is precisely this ongoing input and oversight of police by the communities they serve that can ensure the promise of police to serve and protect truly extends to all communities — no matter the color of their skin or their accent — in Milwaukee and beyond.

Nusrat Choudhury is the Deputy Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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15 thoughts on “Stop-and-Frisk Settlement in Milwaukee Lawsuit Is a Wakeup Call for Police Nationwide”

  1. Howard P

    Unclear how this is particularly relevant to Davis/Yolo County.

    Looks like “filler”meant only to troll for strongly opinionated posts…

    1. Ken A

      Agree with Howard I don’t see a real connection to Davis/Yolo County but I always find it strange that people seem more upset about people of color getting “stopped and frisked” than getting “shot and killed”.

      In 2015 the Chicago cops “stopped and frisked” about 600K people and there were 468 homicides in the city.  In 2015 after an ACLU lawsuit the Chicago cops “stopped and frisked” just over 100K people and there were 762 homicides in the city.

  2. Tia Will


    Based on the most recent Picnic Day controversy that led to police admission of multiple breeches of evidence based policing and voluntarily undertaken reforms as well as the creation of a new citizens advisory process, I would disagree.

    Please note I am not addressing the issue of racially biased policing but rather on the importance of evidence based policing using demonstrated best practices. This change from “how we have always done it” to “best practices training” was a difficult transition to make in medicine, and I anticipate it may be even harder in policing. But it is critical and can be shown to result in better outcomes.

      1. Tia Will


        You made me smile. I did not at any time believe that your opinion would be changed. However, I doubt it is shared by those whose lives are directly affected including the police who chose to instigate the evidence based changes.

  3. Jeff M

    The liberal attack of stop-and-frisk, along with liberal defense of late term abortion rights, is proof that the collective interest of liberalism puts human life down the list of importance from protecting from hurt feelings.   I see this as a sort of moral sickness; but there plenty of people that believe they are morally righteous in their fight.

    1. Tia Will

       is proof that the collective interest of liberalism puts human life down the list of importance”
      Spoken like an individual who has never sat in tears with a woman whose desperately wanted term baby’s life was sacrificed in a near term procedure to end its life because its intracranial accumulation of fluid had made it undeliverable by any modality, vaginal or Cesarean. The choice? To allow the baby to live knowing it will kill the mother for a child with no brain development, or to sacrifice the child so the mother could live.  It is so, so easy for those who have never had to make these life and death near term decisions to call “immoral” regarding the decisions of those who have had to make them. 

      1. Jeff M

        The majority of conservatives support abortion when the life of the mother is at stake.  I do agree that there is a moral conflict in consideration of the viability of the fetus.

        1. Tia Will

          In my 30 years working as a Gyn, I have never seen a near term abortion done when the life of the mother was not in serious jeopardy. I assisted with only one. Many folks who are basing their objection to abortion on their religious beliefs portray near term abortions as common. They are very unusual and almost always involve serious maternal issues. The reason that it looks like some clinics do “many” of them is not that they are “abortion mills” but rather because it takes a unique set of skills to perform these procedures and very few clinicians are proficient.

        2. Howard P

          In my 30 years working as a Gyn, I have never seen

          Assume you mean ‘present and observed’…  There are many things that I confidently believe in, where I was not present and and did not personally observe.   But they happened.

  4. John Hobbs

    The neocon attacks on individual freedoms along with their disgusting justifications for Trump’s crimes against humanity is proof of this malignant minority’s intent to destroy democracy in favor of despotism. When and if a lawfully elected president and congress return, perhaps we can constrain the power of foreign oligarchs to buy an American election for their traitorous puppets..

    1. Jeff M

      The neoliberal attacks on individual freedoms along with their disgusting justification for incivility, vitriol and violence to destroy American democracy as designed in favor of yet another doomed-to-fail experiment in Utopian collectivism is proof of the malignant intent of leftists.  When leftists are able to accept the rule of law when it does not benefit their politics instead of pulling the strings of their lazy media puppets to spread their lies and propaganda, perhaps we can allow them to lead the country again instead of being justifiably relegated to the subordinate voice that they deserve.

      Back to the point.  Stop-and-Frisk saves lives but hurts some feelings.  I value the lives more than I did the hurt feelings.

      [Moderator: please stop this kind of commentary.]

  5. Moderator

    Hey, it’s not even noon and I’ve already had to pull comments. Maybe certain participants should avoid directly talking to each other, and stick to the topic at hand. The topic at hand is stop-and-frisk.


    1. Tia Will

      Ooops. Sorry Don. I should have read to the bottom of the thread before responding to a non topical point. Feel free to pull my last comment.

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