ACLU: Milwaukee PD stop and frisks have not stopped

    Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
    Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin is blasting the Milwaukee police, referencing a new report showing that stop and frisk practices did not cease in 2020. The report was prepared by an independent consultant as part of the 2018 stop and frisk settlement.

    According to an ACLU press release, the report found that nearly 87% of frisks included in a sample of frisks made during the second half of 2020 were made without reasonable suspicion that a person was armed and dangerous. It also found that nearly 38% of pedestrian stops by the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) in the sample failed to show reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Some 60% of people stopped and 86% of those frisked were Black.

    “The recent reports from the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) indicate just how far MPD is from compliance,” said Emma Shakeshaft, a staff attorney with Wisconsin’s ACLU. “Not only is there a drastic racial disparity reflected in the proportion of Black people stopped by the MPD, but the police then go on to frisk Black community members at an even higher rate, despite the fact that the MPD failed to demonstrate reasonable suspicion for many of those stops.” Shakeshaft added that “these numbers are unacceptable and alarming when we have seen time and time again that for Black and brown people, being stopped by the police frequently leads to death, serious harm and trauma.”

    Currently, the ACLU is seeking to connect with people who have been stopped and frisked by MPD, but were not ticketed or arrested, since Jan. 1, 2020. Shakeshaft said, “The fact that almost three years have passed since the agreement was signed and MPD has continued its practice of discriminatory and unconstitutional stops and frisks shows that the department has been unwilling or incapable of doing so in an unbiased and lawful manner.”

    “If Milwaukee police, even under a settlement filed with the court, cannot treat people constitutionally in routine encounters, then there is a serious problem,” she concluded.

    MPD took a non-defensive, supportive approach to the report in a statement to Wisconsin Examiner. “The Milwaukee Police Department is grateful for the CJI Semiannual Analysis, which helps inform the department of its progress in achieving compliance with the Collins settlement agreement,” said a spokesperson. “The report highlights that during the reporting period (the second half of 2020), MPD achieved the compliance threshold of its traffic stops but must continue to improve its documentation of field interviews, frisks and no-action encounters. In January 2021, MPD began a six month department-wide training of all of its sworn members, which includes the feedback and recommendations of the plaintiff’s counsel. We will continue to prioritize full compliance.”

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.