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Milwaukee to Pay $3.4M For Willfully Targeting Black Residents Over Several Years with Stop-and-Frisk

Milwaukee Police Lawsuit

Tracy Adams, a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, on behalf of her 17-year-old minor son, wipes a tear away during a news conference in Milwaukee. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, File)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee agreed Tuesday to pay $3.4 million to settle a lawsuit alleging its police department spent years targeting black and Latino residents without probable cause with its stop-and-frisk policy.

The Milwaukee Common Council approved the settlement and Mayor Tom Barrett was expected to sign it immediately.

“Ultimately we hope that these type of situations cease and desist,” said Alderman Khalif Rainey.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin sued the department last year on behalf of a half-dozen people who claimed they were stopped once or multiple times since 2010. The ACLU found that Milwaukee police officers made more than 350,000 traffic and pedestrian stops from 2010 to 2017 for which they have no record explaining probable cause for the interaction.

The rate at which black residents were detained for traffic or pedestrian stops was more than six times higher than whites, according to the ACLU’s analysis.

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.

Milwaukee did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, but Alderman Michael Murphy said resolving the case now would spare taxpayers millions of dollars more to continue the litigation. He said he hopes the settlement “improves community relations, especially with people of color.”

The settlement calls for the department to document every time they stop and frisk someone and explain the reason why. They’ll also have to collect demographic information on the stops. Officers will also receive training, monitoring, and supervision on racial profiling.

The $3.4 million includes $1.5 million for an independent consultant to monitor the department’s progress in identifying unlawful stops and disciplining officers for racial profiling. The rest of the settlement money, $1.9 million, will go to attorneys’ fees and the residents who brought the suit.

According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, Milwaukee police began conducting more pedestrian and traffic stops in 2008 under the directive of then-Chief Edward Flynn, who retired in February. While Flynn denied his department had a stop-and-frisk program, he maintained that traffic stops in “high crime areas” reduced crime.

Most of the stops were concentrated in areas largely populated by minorities, the ACLU’s lawsuit said, including the predominantly black neighborhoods in the north of the city.

The settlement is the latest instance in which the city has had to pay millions to end lawsuits alleging officer misconduct against minorities. Last year, Milwaukee paid $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill black man fatally shot by a police officer after the officer roused him from a park bench downtown

In 2016, the city paid $5 million to settle a lawsuit by 74 black residents who said police illegally strip-searched them between 2008 and 2012.

Rainey said Friday that if lawsuits against police continue, he and his colleagues should consider requiring the department to self-insure or have payouts come out of the police retirement fund to serve as a deterrent against misconduct.


This story has been corrected to show the settlement amount is $3.4 million, not $5.3 million

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