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. ..."
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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