More traffic stop tickets, arrests for black drivers in Milwaukee despite consistent arrest, citation rates
By Gretchen Schuldt
Despite bearing the bulk of the burden of traffic stops by police targeting high-crime areas, African-American drivers in Milwaukee were no more likely to be ticketed or arrested than their white counterparts, according to a Department of Justice draft report.
Arrests were made in just 2% of traffic stops of African-American drivers, the same rate as for white and Hispanic drivers, according to the draft report.
Because so many more black drivers were stopped, however, the actual number arrested - 6,247 from 2013 to 2015 - was the highest among the three groups. There were 1,216 Hispanics and 1,920 whites arrested after traffic stops over the same time period.
That number / ratio disparity is true with citations as well. Black drivers and white drivers received traffic citations in 15% of stops, but because so many more black drivers were stopped - 273,712 compared to 88,037 - the number of traffic citations issued to black drivers was three times higher than the number issued to whites - 41,629 compared to 13,315.
Hispanic drivers received 8,766 traffic citations, or in 16% of stops.
Because high-crime areas generally correlate with low-income areas, the police strategy likely results in many more fines for low-income black residents in the city.
For the three races considered, the most likely outcome in a traffic stop was a verbal warning, which was given in 74% of cases involving white and African-American drivers and in 71% of cases involving Hispanics. (The Police Department prohibited verbal warnings in 2015.)
A simple stop could take as long as 45 minutes, even if it resulted in only a warning, the report says. The time involved can exacerbate "the negative impact of data-driven policing on the community," the report says.
The draft report, the Department of Justice Collaborative Reform Initiative Assessment Report, says that the Milwaukee Police Department focused enforcement efforts in high-crime areas, or "hot spots."
While data-driven policing is effective, the report says, "what police do at those locations can have both positive and negative consequences for crime and community trust."
Officers interviewed, the report says, were skeptical of the traffic stop strategy. "They were never told of the rationale behind the focus on the traffic stops, they did not believe that the traffic stop strategy would reduce crime, and they feel pressured to conduct traffic stops," the report says.
In addition, although the department denied it had a quota, "many officers indicated that the felt they had a quota of two traffic stops per shift," the report says. "If they did not achieve those numbers, the believed there would be some sort of retribution."
Community members participating in the study said they understood that police were focusing on high-crime areas, but "they felt that many innocent individuals are being stopped, harassed, and detained unduly simply because they lived in the community. ... We also heard complaints about 'curbing,' where individuals are asked to move away from their stopped car and sit on the curb or sidewalk while an officer interviews a driver or searches the car. Community members felt this practice was biased and disrespectful. ..."
By Gretchen Schuldt
Municipal Court traffic cases were down 13 percent during the first nine months of the year compared to the same time period last year, court records show.
Overall, there were 31,515 traffic cases in Milwaukee Municipal Court through September, down 4,912 from the number in the same time period last year, an average drop of 546 cases per month.
The court does not originate the cases - the statistics reflect the activity of the Milwaukee Police Department.
The number of traffic cases jumped sharply in August and September as public pressure about the issue got through to police.
The Police Department is using a data-driven system, Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACT), to identify traffic enforcement target areas, Asst. Police Chief James Harpole said. DDACT effort was made a priority enforcement tool in April, he told the Common Council's Public Safety and Health Committee.
Steve O'Connell of the Sherman Park Neighborhood Association listed for committee members some high-accident areas around Sherman Park.
Sherman Park residents gathered signatures on petitions seeking a written plan from the Police Department on how it will step up traffic enforcement in the city. The petitions also ask that police be required to report to the committee monthly on how many traffic tickets they issue. The circulators collected 76 pages of signatures without too much effort, O'Connell said.
The number of tickets issued by police has gone down dramatically over several years, he said.
"What's going on? Why less tickets? There's no reason for less tickets," he said.
Committee Chair Ald. Robert Donovan said bad driving was "epidemic" throughout the city.
"I am telling you, and you know damned well...that traffic safety in this city is for crap," Donovan told Harpole.
"Every single time I drive, I'm actually afraid," Ald Mark Borkowski said. He expressed some frustration with a police PowerPoint presentation on crime and traffic enforcement. "All I'm hearing is statistics," he said. "We all get these damned calls, and it's not right. These roads are out of control and it's not OK."
Harpole said traffic enforcement was a priority for the police.
"Our officers are putting forth a concerted effort every single day to make this city a safer place," he said.
The number of felony court cases opened in Wisconsin soared 18 percent over the five-year period that ended in 2016, according to state statistics.
The increase would have been even greater had not a 9 percent drop in Milwaukee County felony cases help offset the statewide jump.
The number of felony cases opened statewide increased by 6,068, from 33,103 in 2011 to 39,171 in 2016.
In Milwaukee County, in contrast, the number of felony cases opened fell by 578, from 6,121 in 2011 to 5,543 in 2016.
The figures count cases, not individual charges, and include cases in which the most serious charge is a felony.
An increase in the number of drug possession charges helped drive the statewide increase, but an even bigger factor was a jump in the number of felony bail jumping cases opened. Statewide, the number rose from 4,027 in 2011 to 7,034 in 2016, an increase of 3,007, or 75 percent.
In Milwaukee County, the number of felony bail jumping case rose 5 percent, from 249 to 262.
Bail jumping accounted for 18 percent of felony cases opened statewide last year, but just about five percent of felonies opened in Milwaukee County.
Felony bail jumping is criticized by defense lawyers as a charge issued by some prosecutors seeking to coerce a plea in the underlying case. Felony bail jumping carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison and the charge can be issued for non-criminal activity, such as missing a drug test or having a drink in violation of an absolute sobriety condition of bail.
The number of felony drug possession cases grew 41 percent statewide from 2011 to 2016, from 4,955 to 6,984. Milwaukee County saw a 42 percent decline in felony drug cases, 1,572 to 905.
Milwaukee County's largest increase came in an "other felony" category, up 405% from 2011 to 2016, from 125 to 631 cases opened. Felony traffic cases were up 44%, from 252 to 363 cases.
Felony Cases Opened, Wisconsin and Milwaukee County, 2011 to 2016
Milwaukee County judges handed down longer sentences - a median of 65 days - for nonviolent misdemeanors than did other judges around the state, new data show.
The statewide median sentence was 30 days.
None of the offenders considered had a previous conviction for violence.
Milwaukee County also ranked near the top in the share of nonviolent misdemeanants it sent to jail. Pepin County was tops, at 43.3%; Milwaukee County clocked in at 37%; and statewide, the median was 27.7%.
There also was a racial disparity the length of sentences for those nonviolent misdemeanors in Milwaukee County, The median sentence for nonwhite defendants was 70 days, 17 percent longer than the 60-day median for whites.
The median is the midpoint, meaning half the sentences were longer than the median and half were shorter.
Statewide, there was no racial disparity in sentencing, though individual counties did show disparities -- in six counties, nonwhite defendants were sentenced to longer terms, and in 20 counties whites received longer median sentences than nonwhites.
The data, part of the new Measures for Justice portal that made its debut Tuesday, cover the years 2012-2013.
Milwaukee County Chief Judge Maxine White said the county is in the midst of implementing a a $2 million grant Safety and Justice Challenge Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to reduce the inmate population at the jail and the House of Correction.
Reducing the "misuse and overuse of jails is the mantra they gave us," she said Wednesday.
The partners in the grant, including the courts, the district attorney's office, the public defender's office and others, are working to keep low-level offenders out of the criminal justice system, she said.
If methods other than criminal prosecution can be effective in dealing with those low-level crimes, she said, "we would have a substantially reduced caseload."
The county, according to the Safety and Justice Challenge website, is focusing on three initiatives.
The portal's data on nonviolent misdemeanors is only one of the data points that can be compared across county lines for the first time. The portal is still under development and contains data for just six states, including Wisconsin.
“The data are a treasure trove for communities that will now have access to reliable, informative, and comprehensive data about their criminal justice systems,” Amy Bach, president and executive director of Measures for Justice said in a prepared statement. “Our portal is intended to be a starting point for conversations about how to address the multiple issues facing the criminal justice system.”
There are data points a user will not find on the portal -- at least not yet. There are no statistics about specific crimes, for example. But the data that are available will provide new context to criminal justice discussions in the state.
More Wisconsin tidbits from Measures for Justice for the 2009-13 time span -- we'll be looking deeper into these in the coming weeks and months:
Adding 280 police officers to the city's payroll, as called for in a public safety plan, would cost $31.7 million per year by the fifth year of the surge, according to city budget figures.
That amount dwarfs $23.6 million budget for the entire Milwaukee Public Library system.
The additional cops would cost $29 million in the first year, then increase as officers receive annual step increases, city Budget and Management Director Mark Nicolini said in an email.
The costs include initial equipment costs of $7,285 per officer and a new $57,000 squad car for every five additional officers.
And while Common Council's Public Safety Action Plan says adding the 280 officers would restore police staffing to 2008 levels, figures from the city's budget office indicates that the increase would boost staffing levels well past those seen in 2008. That year, there was an average of 1,994 sworn officers. This year, there is an average of 1,888 sworn officers, or 106 fewer than in 2008, Nicolini said.
Adding 106 officers to the Police Department would cost $11 million the first year, increasing to $13 million in year five, according to the budget office figures.
Flip through their decisions, and it soon becomes apparent that judges in the four Wisconsin Court of Appeals districts stick together in their decisions -- there simply are not very many dissents or concurrences. Cases big and small are decided unanimously almost all the time. It's somewhat amazing, in this day of political polarization, that so many people can agree on so many cases involving so many different facts.
And state appeals judges apparently are not eager to attach their names to opinions. The opinions decided "per curiam" -- unanimously, anonymously and likely drafted by a staff attorney -- far outnumber those authored and signed by an individual judge.
We thought it would be interesting to see how the numbers actually stack up. And so we've come up with a tracker to show exactly what is happening in each district. The first day's tally is below.
Incarceration rates more than 2,000% in two Wisconsin counties and more than 1,000% in 18 counties since 1970, according to a new study from the highly-respected Vera Institute of Justice.
The biggest increase in the jail incarceration rate -- 2,598% -- was recorded in Green Lake County, in the east central part of the state. The second biggest increase was in northern Wisconsin's Vilas County, where the rate rose 2,306% from 1970 to 2014, according to data released with the the report, In Our Own Backyard: Confronting Growth and Disparities in American Jails.
Counties with increases of 1,000% or more, besides Green Lake and Vilas, include Door, Polk, Marquette, Dodge, Bayfield, Green, Taylor, Langlade, Barron, Fond du Lac, Ashland, Wood, Columbia, Waushara, Manitowoc, and Kewaunee.
The jail incarceration rate for Milwaukee County, the state's largest county, rose 191%, the 10th smallest increase among the 70 counties for which data was available.
The disparity between Milwaukee and some many smaller counties is not unusual, according to Vera.
Vera is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit center for justice policy and practice.
Nationwide, the institute said, large-county jails "have neither grown the most nor are they necessarily found in the jurisdictions with the highest incarceration rates. Rather, mid-sized and small counties—which account for the vast majority of jails have largely driven growth, with local jail populations increasing since 1970 by 4.1 times in mid-sized counties and 6.9 times in small counties. In contrast, jail populations in large counties grew by 2.8 times."
Wisconsin's female incarceration rate of 112 per 100,000 women ranks it above El Salvador where, as a new report puts it, "abortion is illegal and women are routinely jailed for having miscarriages."
Only Thailand has a higher female incarceration rate (130) than the United States (127).
"In the U.S., we are not only incarcerating women far more than nearly all other nations, but we are also incarcerating women far more than we have done in the recent past," according to the report, States of Women's Incarceration: The Global Context. "The sudden growth of incarceration in our country has been staggering; our incarceration rate nearly tripled between 1980 and 1990."
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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