A sign created by activists for the vigil held for Roberto Zielinksi. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin is blasting the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) over a recent stop and frisk report. The report, released on Sept. 23, stems from the 2018 settlement requirements of a stop and frisk lawsuit. The ACLU says it shows an increase in racial disparities.
“We’re at a critical moment where the Milwaukee Police Department, three years into the settlement, has failed to achieve compliance for even a single year and continues to over police Black and Latinx people at an alarming, unacceptable, and worsening rate,” said ACLU of Wisconsin senior staff attorney Karyn Rotker. “We are also deeply concerned by the lack of adequate supervision and discipline to impose the accountability that this agreement requires.”
The 92-page report covers two days of policing that took place after an in-service training cycle. It notes both signs of improvement and areas of concern as well as where data collection was insufficient. Particularly, the report noted that “13.6 percent of encounters that were relevant to the Settlement Agreement were not documented in MPD’s databases. This means that 59 encounters lacked the required written record in RMS or TraCS of the stop and the officers justification for it.” The report also noted that 25 encounters which occurred over the two days did not have accompanying video footage.
Outlining its concerns about the report, the ACLU noted that Black Milwaukeeans are stopped an estimated 9.5 times more often than white residents. Latin American residents were stopped 2.9 times more often. The ACLU also stresses that the rate of field interviews is 5.71 times higher for Black residents and the frisk rate was nearly 10 times higher than for white residents. Emma Shakeshaft, staff attorney researcher with the ACLU of Wisconsin, said that the city’s shortcomings “are setting the conditions for this settlement to continue indefinitely.” Shankeshaft added, “We are concerned about the lack of adequate commitment at all levels of the MPD to make the required changes, and we are prepared to seek enforcement, either through mediation or by seeking further action by the court.”
Nevertheless, the report did find some areas of improvement. It notes, for instance, that the Fire and Police Commission (FPC) and MPD have improved communication and collaboration over the last year. “Regular channels of communication between the MPD and the FPC have been established that did not exist before,” the report states. The department also now has two inspectors assigned to the administration bureau, “which adds needed capacity and rank to manage both the ongoing work of the Bureau and the efforts toward compliance for the Department,” the report states. It also mentions that MPD inspectors had used findings from prior reports to improve in-service training on particular issues when officers weren’t performing well.
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In a press release about the report, MPD also stated that it has improved discipline procedures, “to hold our members accountable for failing to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.” The department stated, “MPD understands that we still have work to do. We will continue to improve adherence to our training and policy, will increase timely and quality reviews by our supervision and are laser focused on obtaining full compliance of our agreed upon measures. We welcome the opportunity to work with the plaintiffs and their counsel to successfully complete this settlement agreement.”
The ACLU continues to hold MPD’s feet to the fire as the department and FPC begin to finalize a decision on who will be the next permanent chief. After the FPC demoted Chief Alfonso Morales during the summer of protest last year, the department was headed by acting chief Michael Brunson. Morales has been involved in legal battles since his demotion, and later became a finalist in the search for a chief in Fitchburg.
In December 2020, Brunson passed the title to Jeffery Norman, who has remained the acting chief. Norman, who became one of the final candidates for Wauwatosa’s chief, is now considered a favorite candidate for Milwaukee. Earlier this month, the FPC voted 6-0 to invite Norman to apply as the sole applicant for chief’s job. Norman has also earned the backing of Common Council President Cavalier Johnson, who is slated to succeed Mayor Tom Barrett. “I believe as chief of the Milwaukee Police Department, Jeffery Norman can produce the leadership, stability and vision needed to improve our community, and I hope we see him in that role in the near future,” said Johnson.
“As the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission selects the next permanent chief, it must make willingness and ability to comply with this settlement a priority,” said senior staff attorney of nationwide ACLU’s Racial Justice Program Olga Akelrod. “That means the FPC must carefully examine and heavily weigh any candidate’s history and record of achieving unbiased and constitutional policing in their police departments. That also means that if the FPC is considering internal candidates for the chief position, it must use its oversight authority to look at not just what the candidates claim they will do in the future, but also what they have done—or not done—to comply with this agreement, including holding MPD officers, and their supervisors, responsible if they continue to fail to meet compliance with the settlement.”
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