A Milwaukee police squad in front of the Municipal Court downtown. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Fewer traffic citations are being issued by the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) as compared to past years. A recent TMJ4 investigation found that 33,105 citations were issued in 2022, down from the 71,402 issued in 2017 — a drop by more than half. The 53.6% decrease has been driven by several factors, including a shift in strategy within the police department.
MPD traffic citations have decreased gradually since 2017, when then-Chief Ed Flynn ran the department. Today, the department is led by Chief Jeffery Norman, who took office in late 2020 and established a dedicated Traffic Safety Unit in 2021. Last year, the unit issued 13,487 citations, a majority of them for speeding. Other common reasons for citations were signal or sign violations, driver’s license violations, plate registration violations, moving traffic violations and accidents.
Last year crashes decreased by 12.5%, though traffic deaths increased by almost 15%, from 67 to 77. MPD Inspector David Feldmeier told TMJ4 that the decrease in crashes indicates the department’s approach to reckless driving is working. “From a positive standpoint, we do like to believe that we are making a difference with some of the strategies we’re doing,” said Feldmeir.
The traffic unit was one of the changes that MPD instituted as reckless driving became a top concern in the city. The unit was established to provide targeted, high visibility enforcement in areas of the city with reckless driving issues. In its first year, 2021, the unit issued over 20,000 citations. Nearly 12,000 citations were issued for speeding, 2,800 of which were for speeds exceeding 25 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. In 2022, a new tow policy took effect allowing officers to tow vehicles linked to reckless driving.
Besides a shift in strategy, the department has also needed to adapt in how it deployed personnel. According to the TMJ4 report, the department has had fewer personnel than in recent years while responding to an uptick in violent crime. Officers responding to crime reports have been diverted from other responsibilities. There has also been a focus on pursuing the most serious traffic offenses.
“We have focused on more of the egregious types of driving behaviors,” Feldmeier told TMJ4. “We’re not just casting a wide net and pulling over anything. We’re looking for those individuals really causing harm to the community through their reckless driving. Maybe a turning violation or equipment violation isn’t something necessarily an officer is going to make a stop on when there are more egregious types of violations happening.”
Like the city itself, the police department has changed over time. Between 2007 and 2015, the department tripled the number of traffic and pedestrian stops as part of an overall stop and frisk strategy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit over the practice in 2017. A settlement was reached in 2018 which, among other things, required MPD to change its policies and improve training.
Recently, a set of bills authored by State Rep. Bob Donovan (R-Greenfield) passed the Assembly and is expected to be signed by Gov. Tony Evers. One allows local municipalities to tow and impound vehicles used in reckless driving. The other doubles existing penalties for reckless driving. Donovan, who ran for mayor of Milwaukee in 2022 with a campaign that focused on reckless driving, has said that the legislation will help local law enforcement continue to tamp down on reckless drivers.
Feldmeir said that current trends in the number of citations issued “is indicative of the enforcement we’re doing based on the personnel we have.” He added that, “the focus that we have as far as the type of violations we’re stopping on top of trying to balance that with all the other responsibilities we have in keeping this city safe.”
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