ACLU Sues Milwaukee Police Over Stop And Frisk Program

Police Chief Ed Flynn Defends Traffic Stops

Milwaukee Police car
(vincent desjardins) (CC-BY)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is suing the Milwaukee Police Department in federal court, aiming to block the practice of what the civil rights group alleges is the department’s stop-and-frisk program.

The ACLU said Milwaukee police stopped tens of thousands of people between 2007 and 2015 without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The lawsuit also claims African-Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately pulled over.

Plaintiff Tracy Adams said she’s joined the case on behalf of her teenage son, who she said has been questioned by police three times.

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ACLU lawsuit plaintiff Tracy Adams speaks at a Wednesday news conference in Milwaukee. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

“And I’m standing with him, standing with other African-American mothers who have to tell their sons constantly, ‘When you’re stopped by the police officers, be calm, answer their questions, cooperate, and you may come home alive,’” Adams said at a Wednesday news conference in Milwaukee.

Another plaintiff, Charles Collins, said he and his wife were stopped in their car three years ago, then questioned and released without explanation. Collins said it’s not the only time he’s felt singled out because he’s African-American.

“It’s gotten (to) a point where I’m always looking over my shoulders, you know? There’s an anxiety in me,” Collins said.

Nusrat Choudhury, senior staff Attorney for the ACLU Racial Justice Program, said the police lack guidelines on when they should frisk an individual.

“These failures make it impossible for supervisors to ensure that patrol officers are only conducting frisks when a person is armed and dangerous. That is what the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires,” Choudhury said.

The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit, hoping to represent an entire class of people who say they were wrongly stopped and frisked.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn responded Wednesday that “The Milwaukee Police Department has never used the practice of stop-and-frisk, nor has there ever been a quota for traffic stops.”

However, Flynn said, “traffic stops in high crime areas have been proven to reduce the number of non-fatal shootings, robberies and motor vehicle thefts. “

“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. But MPD considers it our moral duty to confront violence where it occurs,” Flynn said in a statement. “Towards that end, our officers take physical risks every day implementing the ethical and constitutional anti-crime strategies of the MPD.”

Flynn said the Police Department released 2016 crime data recently that indicated 79 percent of homicide victims and 75 percent of aggravated assault victims were African-American. Eighty-one percent of homicide suspects and 85 percent of aggravated assault suspects were African-American.

The ACLU has filed similar challenges in Boston and Chicago over racial-profiling concerns. New York halted its stop-and-frisk policy in 2014 after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional, according to The Associated Press.