Wisconsin ACLU Hopes Milwaukee Police Lawsuit Will Put Other Departments On Notice

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (PT)— Last month, Wisconsin ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) filed a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department’s stop and frisk practices. Representatives of the non-profit, however, hope other departments in the area also take heed.

That message is particularly potent given Milwaukee’s most recent police shooting. Jermaine Claybrooks, 32, was shot by officers operating as part of an unnamed drug task force. That task force, which allegedly sent undercover personnel after Claybrooks, included Milwaukee and West Allis personnel working under the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Officials were vague as to what weapons were used, and who fired first.

The shooting will be investigated by suburban PDs including Wauwatosa. That department, however, was involved in a very questionable shooting which many feel was covered up. What’s odder is the involvement of a new unit, dubbed the Milwaukee County Suburban Investigations Team. This is its first shooting investigation and first it’s been referenced in media.

All this happens on the heels of ACLU’s lawsuit against MPD’s tactics. “While we are absolutely concerned about the ways a police stop can tragically escalate and lead to injury or death”, Wisconsin ACLU told Pontiac Tribune, “I think this is more about the daily indignities people of color are facing at the hands of the police.” Collins expressed hopes that, “other police departments will take notice and think long and hard about whether they are conducting racially biased policing.”

It’s unclear what pressure ACLU’s lawsuit is actually having on MPD and neighboring departments. MPD Chief Ed Flynn has opened his department to public scrutiny in the past. Last February, Flynn attended a public forum held by the DOJ to evaluate public claims of misconduct.

Among the many attending residents were family members of people slain, raped, stalked, and brutalized by MPD officers. In a time when DOJ reviews were forced on departments, Flynn’s force volunteered. That same month, however, MPD was caught using cell site simulators, AKA Stingrays, to unnecessarily track and monitor citizens.

Things like that make Milwaukee residents, myself included, consistently suspicious of MPD. Some say the most damaging thing about systematic police misconduct is the level to which it betrays the community. Are initiatives like Denver’s “Rebuilding Trust 2.0” effective or simply appealing P.R. for departments?

 

“By routinely stopping thousands of people who have done nothing wrong, the Milwaukee Police Department has undermined its relationship with residents and created a profound lack of trust – especially in the communities of color targeted by these policies – which compromises the Department’s ability to investigate crimes.”– Wisconsin ACLU Executive Director Molly Collins

 

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Chief Flynn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, downplayed concerns raised by ACLU’s lawsuit. Namely, Flynn noted how many stops don’t result in tickets, arrests, and even a drop in citizen complaints as stops increased. Thinking critically about the latter, however, wouldn’t it make sense that–if citizens don’t trust MPD–that they wouldn’t see a point in reporting misconduct?

Second, numerous departments train officers to dig for an arrest once a stop as occurred. Determining if the person has warrants, conducting searches, and specific lines of questioning are all tactics used to turn stops into a statistics.

Third, the very experience of getting stopped tends to be a very nerve racking experience for some. In New York, talk of reforms including making it clear a search isn’t mandatory and handing out officer identification cards may help ease this. Milwaukee doesn’t have such experiments taking place as if nothing was learned from 2016’s riots.

For that, Flynn’s clear dismissing of the basis of Wisconsin ACLU’s lawsuit seems faulty. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, as far as local sources have reported, hasn’t commented on the lawsuit. It’s a theme throughout the city whenever the police are widely questioned for an audience to see. Utter silence to a shameful, and disturbing degree. The coming weeks will determine whether the shockwave of ACLU’s lawsuit will reverberate strong enough.