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Lawsuit filed: ACLU challenges what it calls MPD’s stop-and-frisk program; Chief Flynn responds

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MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Police Department is operating a stop-and-frisk program that mostly targets black and Latino residents who are often detained without cause, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin alleges in a class action lawsuit filed against the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Police Department Wednesday. The lawsuit claims MPD is utilizing policies that are unconstitutional.

The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of six black and Latino plaintiffs who said they've been stopped once or multiple times since 2010 without a citation or clear explanation -- while taking part in lawful activities.

Jason Williamson

Jason Williamson

"This lawsuit is a culmination of a nearly three-year investigation conducted by the ACLU national office and the ACLU of Wisconsin," Jason Williamson, ACLU attorney said.

The lawsuit alleges the stop-and-frisk program is citywide, but is concentrated in areas largely populated by minorities, including the predominantly black neighborhoods in the north of the city, creating a "deepened public fear of and alienation from" the police.

"Rather than feeling protected, these residents feel under siege," Williamson said.

ACLU of Wisconsin

ACLU of Wisconsin

Police Chief Edward Flynn has suggested that increasing the number of stops in certain areas will disrupt and deter crime, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit asks the court to order the Milwaukee Police Department to immediately end the program and to declare that department is violating the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause and the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

CLICK HERE to read through the complaint filed against MPD

"What we've uncovered by talking to people in the community and looking closely at plaintiff's experiences is that the Milwaukee Police Department is running a vast, unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program that subjects people to law enforcement encounters without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and based on their race and ethnicity," said Nusrat Choudhury, an ACLU attorney.

The ACLU has challenged similar police initiatives 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.

The number of traffic and pedestrian stops in Milwaukee rose from 66,657 in 2007, the year before the new stop-and-frisk directive, to 196,434 in 2015, according to Milwaukee Police Department data cited in the lawsuit.

Milwaukee Police Department

Milwaukee Police Department

Figures the ACLU obtained from the police department through an open records request found that black people comprised 72 percent of the more than 33,300 pedestrian stops officers conducted between 2010 and 2012. Blacks make up about 39 percent of Milwaukee's nearly 600,000 residents, according to 2015 Census data.


The ACLU's analysis of those stops found that 41 percent lacked a clear explanation, with the reasons listed being "other," ''null," or "suspicious circumstances," ''suspicious vehicle," and "suspicious person."

ACLU attorneys also contend that the department encourages quotas for stops. They cited a May 2016 letter from the police union to department supervisors about placing officers "in a very difficult situation."

"Basically, stops must be made to preserve employment, rather than to facilitate public safety," Milwaukee Police Association President Michael Crivello said in the letter, which claimed officers were being told to make two traffic stops per day or face discipline.

Milwaukee police

MPD officials have denied a quota system exists.

Tracy Adams

Tracy Adams

One of the lawsuit's plaintiffs is a 17-year-old boy who says he's been detained without cause three times, including once when he was visiting a friend when he was 11.

"I am standing with other African-American mothers who have to tell their son constantly 'when you get stopped by police officers, be calm. Answer their questions and you may come home with life,'" Tracy Adams, the 17-year-old's mother said.

Another plaintiff is 60-year-old Alicia Silvestre, who alleges that two police officers pulled her over and followed her home to look through her purse and verify she had a driver's license, which she didn't have when they stopped her. She said she was not ticketed or told why she was pulled over.

The lawsuit alleges that Charles Collins and his wife were pulled over and questioned in 2014 without explanation — an experience Collins, 67, said reinforced his anxiety about police.

Milwaukee Police

Milwaukee Police

"If I go out, I gotta be on edge. I gotta be a little anxious because if I roll out as a black man, there's a good chance that I'm gonna get stopped for doing nothing," he said.

"These practices the intentional targeting of thousands of innocent people and disproportionately people of color needs to end," Karyn Rotker, ACLU attorney said.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said in a statement released on Wednesday:

"The Milwaukee Police Department has never used the practice of 'stop and frisk,' nor has there ever been a quota for traffic stops.  However, 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.  Towards that end, our officers take physical risks every day implementing the ethical and constitutional anti-crime strategies of the MPD."

MPD also noted that it released 2016 crime data recently that indicated 79% of homicide victims and 75% of aggravated assault victims were African-American. 81% of homicide suspects and 85% of aggravated assault suspects were African-American.

Crime stats

During the last nine years, as measured by UWM, citizen complaints have significantly declined and favorable public opinion of MPD has risen, despite the increase in proactive police activity. MPD also noted that among those complainants in the suit, none of them have filed complaints with the Milwaukee Police Department or the Fire and Police Commission.

FOX6 News reached out to the city attorney, who was unable to comment on the lawsuit because they have yet to be served the paperwork.



    When I go duck hunting I go to the areas that I know will contain ducks. Police do the same. It only makes sense. I see no problem with profiling. Facts are facts. If I get pulled over for a light out, no problem. I will thank the officer for informing me. I have nothing to hide. If you are dumb enough to drive like an idiot without plates, speeding, windows tinted out, broken lights and many more infractions. well then expect to get pulled over.

  • Daniel W.

    So blacks commit 80% of the crime and 80% of the victims were black. And you’re upset that police are stopping you one time every 365 days? Give me a break. Liberals dont know what they want. Crying for peace but its their people who is doing all the crime. Then when something is being done, they cry racism and profiling. Well tough luck, you do 80% of the cities crime. You want help then you dont want help. The mind of a liberal.

    • deleted again

      I have also been profiled and targeted as a drunk driver. I worked second shift and going home at 2,3,4 or five in the morning I fit the profile of a drunk driver. I was pulled over often but I was polite and followed orders. They checked me out and sent me on my way. If you have nothing to hide you don’t mind a little bit of inconvenience to help the law do their job.

    • Daniel W.

      Im an asian american. Of course i understand profiling. The difference between me and the sad individuals mentioned in this article is that i refuse to be a victim or statistic. Every person making these claims that the aclu are supporting are drowing in the victimhood mentality. Thats the liberal way. When i got stopped by police, I treated them as a person. Smiled, joked with them, and thanked them for their service. Regardless if i got a ticket or not, i made it known to that officer that i will not be a problem for them. I did not choose to be a victim and cry foul. In the end, i got to know some officers as people rather than the robots the liberals and aclu view them as.

  • phacepalm

    Me (I’m white) & my white friends in the mid 1970’s were stopped & frisked all time. We didn’t argue or resist. Most of all……….. We didn’t whine or cry about it. Move on snowflakes.

  • deleted again

    Not about the color of their skin, the color of their character. This is what MLK wanted and now the criminal element doesn’t want to be troubled by the law.

  • Sheila Moyet

    The truth is that crime and violence is destroying our city. It’s getting worse every day. Law abiding citizens are afraid to walk the streets. These are desperate times in Milwaukee and call for desperate action. Forget all the PC crap, we have a major problem that is not going away unless we grow a backbone.

  • Daniel W.

    Its a society issue. The only person that made it a race issue was you and the rest of the liberals. Just because im a minority too, does it mean it must have been racist? No, not even close. By your logic and ever other democrat, only black people are suited to handle these so called “black problems”. Ok, so in baltimore, you had a black person in every position of power and got it 100% wrong when a criminal killed himself when they tried to pin it on 6 police officers. Liberals preach togetherness but are the first to divide society. If people would work with police rather than fight them, maybe this city would be a better place. The problem is that the citizens believe its the police that is the problem when in reality, its the citizens.

  • andy g

    I don’t like the idea of police having the authority to search someone at will, absolute power corrupts absolutely. But on the other hand if nothing is done the aclu would file a lawsuit for lack of police protection. It would seem then there is no making them happy.
    The crime needs to stop, people should not have to worry that their children will be killed or their home broken into, if you show respect you get respect. Respect others like you want them to respect you and the police would have no need to have a stop and frisk program.

  • Tactical Medic

    I do everything by the book. Yet I get pulled over and when I ask why, the office will say license, reg, and INS. I hand it over and again I ask why am I being pulled over? I have a nice car and did I fail to mention that I have Emergency Medical Plates…. The office says your headlights are too bright…..I explain to the office that this is how the car was made. I demonstrated the lights with high beams and low beams and the office politely gave me a ticket for failure to dim highlights, I said but sir you just seen that my lights were not bright, the officer said take it up in court. I was not going to argue with him, hell I was too scared that he would kill me. No one was around!…. Did I forget to mention that it was about 3:00am and I am Black woman that lives in a decent neighborhood.

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