MILWAUKEE (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union claims in a federal lawsuit that Milwaukee residents have been subjected to abusive police stop-and-frisk tactics motivated by race and ethnicity.
The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday in Milwaukee federal court accusing the city, its fire and police commission and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn of violating citizens’ civil rights.
Milwaukee's stop-and-frisk program was adopted in 2008 as part of a "broken windows" policing strategy devised to deter crime, according to the 81-page complaint.
The strategy involves focusing on specific neighborhoods where residents are predominantly people of color with the use of "saturation patrols" by police officers, who conduct high-volume and suspicionless stops-and-frisks throughout the area, the ACLU says.
According to the complaint, the Milwaukee Police Department developed a quota system that required its officers to meet numerical targets for stops on a regular basis.
This routine practice allegedly caused the combined number of traffic and pedestrian stops to skyrocket from 66,657 in 2007 to 196,434 in 2015.
“Overwhelmingly, the victims of the MPD’s suspicionless stop-and-frisk program are black and Latino people. Though implemented citywide, the MPD’s program has been largely concentrated in neighborhoods of color, including Milwaukee Police Districts Three, Five, and Seven, all of which are located in predominantly black neighborhoods in the northern half of the City,” the lawsuit states.
Lead plaintiff Charles Collins – a 67-year-old black military veteran and retired nursing assistant – claims he was stopped for no reason following a visit from his son's home in 2014.
Collins says he asked the patrol officer why he had been pulled over and the officer responded, "We're not the ticket police." After the officer took Collins driver's license and ran a warrant search, he and his wife were able to leave the scene without any charges or citations, Collins claims.
Tracy Adams, the mother of a black teenager, D.A., says her son has been stopped without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity at least three times.
In 2010, when D.A. was a fifth-grade student, he was stopped while waiting outside of his friend's house after school. The officer began questioning D.A. before taking his phone from his hand, patting him down, and ordering him to put his hands on the hood of the patrol car, Adams says.
D.A.'s friend's father witnessed the incident, and when Adams learned about it she says she called the Milwaukee Police Department's District Seven station and spoke to a sergeant.
"Ms. Adams asked why her son-who was just a child-had been stopped and frisked by the police for no reason,” the complaint states. “The sergeant explained that MPD officers have 'a policy to stop young men walking through alleys.'"
D.A. was allegedly stopped again in 2013 and 2016. In both incidents, he was never charged or cited.
Other plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuit include Stephen Jansen, a 29-year-old black man who recently graduated with a master's degree in public administration; Gregory Chambers, a 32-year-old black man and lifelong Milwaukee resident; Caleb Roberts, a 24-year-old black man who is pursuing a graduate degree; and Alicia Silvestre, a 60-year-old Latina woman who has worked for Milwaukee Public Schools for more than 30 years.
“The MPD’s high-volume, suspicionless stop-and-frisk program has created and deepened public fear of and alienation from the MPD, particularly among black and Latino residents. Black and Latino people throughout Milwaukee—including children—fear that they may be stopped, frisked, or otherwise treated like criminal suspects when doing nothing more than walking to a friend’s house or home from school, driving to and from the homes of loved ones, running errands, or simply taking a leisurely walk or drive through the city,” the complaint states. “No matter where they are in the city, black and Latino people face the constant fear that they and their children may be subjected to police harassment even if they are doing nothing wrong.”
The plaintiffs claim MPD’s policies and practices are based on race and ethnicity and violate their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. They are represented by Nusrat J. Choudhury with the ACLU in New York City.
MPD Chief Flynn denied the ACLU’s allegations in a statement.
“The Milwaukee Police Department has never used the practice of ‘stop and frisk,’ nor has there ever been a quota for traffic stops. However, traffic stops in high crime areas have been proven to reduce the number of non-fatal shootings, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts,” he said. “No discussion of our crime tactics is complete without reference to the hyper-victimization of disadvantaged communities of color by high rates of violent crime. But MPD considers it our moral duty to confront violence where it occurs. Towards that end, our officers take physical risks every day implementing the ethical and constitutional anti-crime strategies of the MPD.”
The department also cited 2016 crime data showing that 79 percent of homicide victims and 75 percent of aggravated assault victims were black, and 81 percent of homicide suspects and 85 percent of aggravated assault suspects were also black.
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