Report: Racial Gap Persists in Milwaukee Police Use of Stop & Frisk Practices


By Audrey Sawyer and Frances Eusebio

MILWAUKEE, WI – The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) was cited this week by Wisconsin’s American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for violating essential clauses of a five-year-old legal settlement requiring an end to racial profiling stop and frisk procedures in Milwaukee.

The ACLU noted the rate of stop and frisk contacts with Black Milwaukeeans continues to be significantly higher than for people of other races, citing the most recent annual report from the Crime and Justice Institute, which assesses MPD’s compliance with the 2018 Collins settlement.

The ACLU also noted Black driving-age residents are 4.5 times more likely to be stopped by law enforcement than white drivers and over twice as likely to be frisked once stopped by law enforcement.

The MPD and Fire and Police Commission (FPC) were compelled to modify their stop-and-frisk policies in the Collins settlement. Additionally, MPD was expected to increase training, supervision, auditing and documenting when the method is employed.

The settlement also mandated that the agency routinely penalize officers who engage in improper stop-and-frisk procedures.

Additionally, it was noted that a Milwaukee Community Collaborative Committee was to be maintained, and MPD’s citizen complaint procedure was to be overhauled.

Through the settlement, MPD was also obligated to remove racial prejudice from its force, engage an impartial consultant to assess compliance with the agreement, and publicly disseminate stop-and-frisk data.

However, the department’s areas for growth and difficulty are noted in a 53-page study, said the ACLU.

The study expressed worry over modifications made to the FPC by the Republican-controlled legislature even though it praised the progress achieved to re-energize and re-engage the FPC. A compromise was reached between city, county, and state authorities throughout the summer to give Milwaukee enough cash to avert an impending fiscal disaster.

The FPC was compelled to cede control over policy-making for MPD to the police chief as part of the legislation that followed on local government finance. Other clauses in the agreement met the requests of police unions like the Milwaukee Police Association while also being advantageous to law enforcement.

The report recognizes the department’s advancements, noting, in the past year, “there has been an increased focus across the breadth of the MPD not only to reach compliance but also to understand more deeply why compliance has not yet been achieved. 

“We observe more members talking about how they do their work and why doing it right and well matters, not only for compliance but because of their pride in performance,” according to the statement.

The patrol and administrative commanders of MPD led monthly meetings of police offers, which staff from the Crime and Justice Institute remotely attended.

The report points out personnel are brought together to review sample data on searches and stops, explaining, The district personnel bring examples of community-based problem-solving efforts which consist of various issues and include various solutions, such as partnerships with not only parts of local government but frequently members of the community.

MPD and FPC leadership are not only present but generally participate.

Aside from stripping the FPC of its policy-making power, the bill includes “law enforcement unions in the state additional influence over candidates selected to serve on the Commission,” emphasized by the report.

The report regarded the last monitoring period as a “stability period for the FPC until the state legislature’s passage of a local government funding bill, Act 12 in June 2023.” The report mentions that Milwaukee still struggles with placing methods of accountability to demonstrate compliance with the settlement.

Included in the report is a noted continuing trend of racial disparities among police stops, despite the bill, stating, “The City and MPD have committed to conducting additional analyses to better understand what is driving the disparities, and where and why they are occurring.”

The report explains that options are being explored that will allow them to go deeper into their data and with additional funding from the city in their budget to continue the analysis.

While some might claim Milwaukee crime rates are a reason for high rates of stop and frisk encounters in minority communities, the report discusses “an analysis of the ratio of frisk rates to crime rates by district shows that when accounting for relative crime rates, officers conduct frisks more often in Black and Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods.”

The report adds there are racial and ethnic disparities in not only traffic stops but field interviews, non-action encounters, and frisks conducted by MPD, with “robust disparities in police encounters with Black residents contrasted against white residents in Milwaukee.”

Rape cases according to MPD’s online crime data are said to be up two percent, robbery cases up three percent, human trafficking cases have seen the biggest increase (more than doubled) to surpass 108 percent. Non-fatal shootings have gone up by four percent, carjackings up seven percent.

However, homicide cases for the year as of Sept. 24 are down by 22 percent (in comparison to last year, when there was an 11 percent increase from 2021 to 2022).

The Milwaukee County’s Overdose dashboard cites there to be just over 5,500 non-fatal drug overdoses so far this year…623 county residents have lost their lives to a drug overdose compared to 648 last year.

In November, the ACLU will launch a “Know Your Rights Tour” which will feature training around Milwaukee to educate residents about their rights when interacting with police. The trainings will have a particular focus on Black youth in the city.

Olga Akselrod, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project, argues everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, no matter where one lives or what they look like.

Akselrod said “When police stop us based on our race or ethnicity, it does not make us any safer. Instead, these deeply-entrenched inequalities compound the damage done to communities the police are sworn to protect.”

While Akselrod praised the “positive step” to see indicators of unconstitutional policing drop since the settlement was established, she finished, “As we reach the fifth year of Collins, it remains clear that this settlement is still needed.”

Executive director of Wisconsin’s ACLU, Dr. Melinda Brennan, said the settlement will “persist until the City reaches full compliance.”

Added Brennan, “We can work toward preventing harm and not merely responding after the fact—by addressing root causes of crime and investing in proven solutions, like affordable housing, mental health services and economic opportunity.”


About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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