By Gretchen Schuldt
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Tuesday called for Milwaukee officials to develop and adopt enforcement guidelines and accountability measures for the recently announced stepped-up use of the city's curfew ordinance against juveniles and their parents.
"We have seen in the past valid concerns raised about police practices by the ACLU’s stop-and-frisk lawsuit," WJI President Craig Johnson said in a letter to Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Police Chief Jeffrey B. Norman and the Common Council. "Any policy that increases the number of police-citizen encounters and places too much reliance on police discretion raises concerns that these practices will again prove problematic to certain groups."
The ACLU suit resulted in the Milwaukee Police Department and the city agreeing to reforms in pedestrian and vehicle stop and search procedures. The ACLU presented strong evidence of racial disparities in who was stopped and searched.
Mayor Johnson and Chief Norman announced the increased curfew enforcement last week, in the wake of the mass shooting near the Deer District after a Bucks' game. No juveniles have been arrested in connection with the shooting, and Norman said the stronger curfew enforcement was meant to protect them.
WJI's Johnson said the move could worsen police-community relations unless "the city adopts and publishes accountability measures and enforcement guidelines."
"Curfew enforcement guidelines should make clear how police will enforce the curfew and who is at risk of receiving citations," Craig Johnson wrote. "Is a 16-year-old making their way home from a Brewers’ game going to get a ticket? How about a youth waiting at a bus stop after work?"
The city's primary curfew ordinance makes it illegal for anyone 16 or under to "congregate, loiter, wander, stroll, stand or play in or upon the public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, public buildings, places of amusement and entertainment, places of employment, vacant lots or any public places in the city either on foot or in or upon any conveyance being driven or parked thereon." Violations can bring forfeitures of $100-$200.
Parents and guardians can be cited if they "suffer or permit or by inefficient control to allow" violations by minors.
There are exceptions to the prohibitions. A youth can be out and about while with a parent or guardian or when "exercising first amendment rights protected by the United States constitution or the Wisconsin constitution, including freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, and the right of assembly," according to the ordinance. A parent or guardian will not be held liable for any violation if they have filed with the police a missing persons report regarding the youth.
"How will an officer determine whether a young person qualifies for one of the exemptions in the ordinance?" Craig Johnson asked, adding, "What are the standards for deciding what parents are cited and when?"
Craig Johnson cited the city's "contributing to truancy" ordinance as an "object lesson in the need for enforcement standards."
In 1995, when lobbying for such an ordinance, then-Police Chief Philip Arreola said he was concerned about adults and businesses who "were responsible for contributing to the students (sic) absence from school by hosting parties and/or allowing students to congregate/loiter on their premises.”
The contributing to truancy ordinance, since then, however, has been used mostly against Black women, Johnson said.
"From 2015 through September 2020, according to Municipal Court statistics, 94% of contributing-to- delinquency citations were issued to women, 62% to Black people, 25% to Hispanic people, and 11% to Whites," he wrote. "That disproportionate caseload suggests inequitable enforcement."
"How will MPD ensure that police equitably enforce the curfew ordinances?" he asked. "Is MPD willing to publicly report the demographics and ages of those cited?"
He also asked whether businesses would be subject to curfew ordinances that apply specifically to them. One ordinance, for example, requires venues with a public entertainment license to announce an approaching curfew 20 minutes before it takes effect.
"All entertainment shall cease for the 20-minute period prior to curfew," the ordinance says.
Violations carry forfeitures of $500 to $2,000.
It also is generally illegal for a business to allow anyone under 17 to enter or stay on the premises after curfew, and hotels, motels, and rooming houses are prohibited from allowing anyone under 18 to "visit, loiter, idle, wander or stroll in any portion of such" business from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Violations of that ordinance carries forfeitures of $100 to $200.
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