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ACLU Sues City of Milwaukee Over Police Department's Stop-and-Frisk Policy

Joshua Lott/ACLU
Charles Collins says he has been stopped by police many times because he is a black man

Update: In response to the ACLU lawsuit, the Milwaukee Police Department says it does not use a stop-and-frisk policy. MPD spokesman Timothy Gauerke emailed a statement to WUWM reading, "Traffic stops in high crime areas have been proven to reduce the number of non-fatal shootings, robberies and motor vehicle thefts."

The statement goes on to say, "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." According to Gauerke, the MPD considers it a moral duty to confront violence wherever it occurs.

Original Post:

The American Civil Liberties Union says that for years the Milwaukee Police Department has been stopping and frisking black and Hispanic men without reasonable suspicion that they were involved in criminal activity.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is suing the City of Milwaukee over the police department’s stop-and-frisk policy.

Charles Collins says that every time he leaves his house, he’s apprehensive about the possibility of police stopping him.

“You know as a black man living in Milwaukee, when I walk out of my house, there’s an edge there. It’s like you’re driving down the street and you’re kind of programmed to look over your shoulder all the time. That’s a very uneasy feeling,” he says.

Collins is 67 years old, and has lived in Milwaukee since the 1960s. He says earlier in life, police stopped him a number of times yet did not cite him for doing anything wrong. But it was an encounter with an officer just a few years ago, in 2014, that finally made him say -- enough.

“I had taken my grandbaby home. You know, we were babysitting. We took her home and we were leaving coming back going to our house, my wife and I, we were going down 27th Street. We turned onto Atkinson and out of nowhere, there’s a police cruiser behind us,” he says.

Collins says he pulled over, even though he didn’t understand why he was being stopped. And he says the officer never gave him a reason, but just looked over his license, handed it back and sent the couple on its way.

“I didn’t feel well about it. It didn’t feel good,” he says.

And Collins says his story is all too common.

“I see a lot of young people in my neighborhood get pulled over or get stopped. I talk to people who say that their children have been pulled over for no reason, and they stay in a variety of areas. They don’t just stay in one spot in Milwaukee,” Collins says.

“What we’re seeing in Milwaukee is that for years, the department has stopped innocent people in circumstance where they’re going about their daily lives walking home from school, driving to a relative’s home. Doing normal things that don’t give rise to reasonable suspicion," Nusrat Choudhury says.

Choudhury, a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU, says the effects of stop-and-frisk can’t be denied.

“And the result is a dragnet. A dragnet that ensnares people in encounters that are motivated by race and ethnicity. And that’s racial profiling, not evidence-based policing,” she says.

So Choudhury says the ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee, and right now, there are six plaintiffs. The stops span from October of 2010 through fall of 2016. She says the ACLU has seen the data from thousands of stops police made that don’t provide adequate reasons.

Stan Stojkovic says police across the country heavily use stop-and-frisk policies. Stojkovic is a criminal justice professor at UW-Milwaukee. He says the 1968 federal court decision in Terry vs. Ohio gave officers the discretion to stop people, if police reasonably believe the individuals pose a threat to the community.

“They have given police broad discretionary authority in communities that are violent. For example, high crime rates. And they’ve said to police, you know, because of that, that’s enough to believe, (for) a reasonable person to believe and for you to believe frisking people, patting people down is appropriate. But you can see how critics argue that this may be an abuse of police authority,” Stojokovic says.

Stojokovic says when there’s no real basis to suspect someone of being dangerous, then stopping and patting them down becomes harassment. And he says in Milwaukee, you can’t forget the recent past.

“You got to remember that Milwaukee had a horrific, horrific outcome a few years ago when an officer in particular was conductingstrip searcheson the street,” he says.

Stojokovic says that while police use stop-and-frisk around the country, the verdict is still out on whether it has made streets safer.

Fred  Royal is president of the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

He says that there's not doubt driving while black is a reality and can lead to fear.

He says that while the lawsuit is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done.

Royal says he'd like to see the MPD move to a model of policing that focuses on problem solving, not reaction.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office says the city does not comment on pending legislation.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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