Police stop

Vehicles driven by African Americans are far more likely to be stopped and searched in Milwaukee. 

Stephen Fore - stock.adobe.com

There are wide racial disparities in traffic stops in Milwaukee, with African Americans bearing the brunt of the burden, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's draft report on the Milwaukee Police Department. 

Blacks were stopped more than three times as often as whites, according to the report. There also were huge disparities in whose cars got searched, according to the report.

The report's findings help explain the vast racial gap in Milwaukee felony second offense marijuana possession cases, many of which stem from traffic stops Milwaukee police make for minor infractions. WJI is tracking felony marijuana cases here and here.

The department, the report says, believes that traffic stops allow officers to proactively police and “form the basis for a relationship between MPD and the community.”

The department also believes that enforcement in high-crime areas as a way to disrupt crime, the report says. 

Police went so far as to target certain vehicle makes — such as Dodge mini-vans —  for stops because they were more likely to be stolen.

"Critics have ... expressed concern that the traffic program will be disproportionately applied against members of ethnic and racial minorities," the report says. "Given the program's focus on high-crime neighborhoods, which are predominately populated by people of color, it is difficult to dispute that this program disproportionately affects the African-American and Hispanic communities." 

The DOJ team analyzed the department's traffic stops and "found MPD's traffic stop program to be marked by significant racial disparities, the study said. "Specifically, African Americans are stopped three times more than white residents, but account for only two percent more of the city's population than whites."

The disparity is citywide, but is especially high in police districts with a higher proportion of white residents, the report says. 

Vehicles driven by African-Americans also were far more likely to be searched, according to the report. African-Americans were three times more likely to be searched than were white drivers, while Hispanic drivers were twice as likely to be searched as whites. 

The statistics cover the 2013-15 time period and include both consensual and non-consensual searches. The Police Department since has stopped consensual searches, the report says.

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