A black Milwaukee driver is seven times as likely to be stopped by city police as a white resident driver, a Journal Sentinel analysis of nearly 46,000 traffic stops has found. Similarly, Milwaukee police pulled over Hispanic city motorists nearly five times as often as white drivers, according to the review, which took into account the number of licensed drivers by race. Police also searched black drivers at twice the rate of whites, but those searches didn’t lead to higher rates of seized weapons, drugs or stolen property.
The review found that the disparities spanned all seven police districts. The two with the greatest racial discrepancies – Districts 1 and 6 – have the lowest crime rates, and both have predominantly white populations. The disparities found in Milwaukee are greater than other large metro police departments where traffic stop data is collected, including Charlotte, Kansas City, Raleigh and St. Louis.
In those jurisdictions, black drivers were stopped between 1.6 and 2.2 times as often as white drivers, according to 2010 data from North Carolina and Missouri. Hispanic drivers in those cities were between 0.7 and 1.2 times as likely to be stopped as whites, taking into account the overall driving-age population. Using that same measure, Milwaukee’s disparities were 3.9 for blacks and 2.1 for Hispanics.
The Journal Sentinel’s review is the first of its kind here. It is based on data from a since-repealed state law that required law enforcement agencies to collect detailed information on every traffic stop. State Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), who helped draft the traffic data provision, said the newspaper’s findings confirm her belief that minority drivers are treated unfairly by police here.
“Is racial profiling real?” said Grigsby, who represents a district on the city’s north side. “It’s like water to a fish in my world. There is a feeling, there is an understanding, an unsaid knowledge that this is part of the experience of being a person of color in Wisconsin. It feels like a standard practice in this state.”
Milwaukee police officials did not dispute the newspaper’s findings, but said traffic stop rates track more closely with suspect and victim demographics than with driving population estimates.
Although this review was conducting in Milwaukee, we’re sure the numbers are similar in other cities around the U.S.