By Gretchen Schuldt
The Milwaukee Police Department issued traffic citations to African-Americans in greatly disproportionate numbers last year, as it did in previous years, Municipal Court figures show.
Tickets in 69% of Municipal Court traffic cases were issued to African-American drivers, while just 13% went to white drivers, according to Municipal Court figures.
And while the 16% of tickets received by Latino drivers closely reflected their 18% share of the population, Latinos actually received more citations in 2017 than did white drivers, who are vastly underrepresented in traffic citations.
Latinos had 9,063 traffic citation cases, while whites, who account for about 46% of the city's population, had just 7,682, or 13% of the total.
About 46% of the city is white and about 39% is African-American, according to 2012-2016 American Community Survey five-year estimates.
Minorities have borne the costs of Milwaukee traffic citations for years, as WJI reported previously.
Ald. Michael Murphy, who provided the data to WJI, said he was surprised by the numbers and would investigate further. The city has to make sure its citizens are treated fairly, he said.
Municipal Court does not control the issuance of tickets, but the caseload reflects the volume being issued.
Since traffic tickets carry fines, the financial burden they create is borne mostly by African-Americans and Milwaukee's poorest neighborhoods.
The map below shows the total fines issued in each zip code. The amounts in the five zip codes with the largest totals are in green. Four of the five are in some of the city's lowest-income areas.
People in those zip codes are less likely to pay all of their forfeitures, according to the Municipal Court figures. In 53215, which has the highest payment rate, 44% of the total forfeitures levied were paid by mid-February; in high-poverty 53206, which had the lowest level of forfeiture satisfaction, just 14% of the total due was paid.
Nonpayment of traffic citation forfeitures can result in suspension of a driver's license for up to a year, meaning that those people cannot drive to get to jobs they need to pay their forfeitures. Some will - and do - drive illegally.
In Milwaukee, unlike some other municipal courts, driver's license suspensions do not erase the debts, but are in addition to the money owed.
The number of traffic cases in Municipal Court is surging. Last year through March, there were 6,543 traffic citation cases; this year, there were 27,814 during the first three months.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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