Buting ,Williams & Stilling ,S.C. | A Criminal Defense Law Firm

Call Today for a FREE Consultation


ACLU: Milwaukee’s own data shows illegal race-based police stops

by | Mar 6, 2018 | Criminal Defense

Two criminal justice experts have cast serious doubt on the legality of many police activities in Milwaukee. Just as many African-Americans and Latinos have claimed for years, the evidence shows that they and their neighborhoods are being unfairly targeted for police stops and pat-down searches — often with no legal basis.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and a law firm filed a civil rights lawsuit against Milwaukee for its stop-and-frisk program. The number of pedestrian and traffic stops under the program tripled between 2007 and 2015, from about 66,000 annually to 196,000 each year.

Yet the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires each and every police stop to be based on objectively reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Did that vast increase in stop-and-frisk activity represent police objectively observing three times the amount of criminal activity?

No. A former sheriff with more than 40 years of experience recently analyzed Milwaukee’s own records of over 350,000 police stops of vehicles and pedestrians that occurred between 2010 and 2017. In almost half of those stops there was no evidence the police acted on reasonable suspicion. Even an observed traffic or vehicle equipment violation would have been acceptable, but it just wasn’t there.

A law, economics and public policy expert from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and The Wharton School performed an analysis of Milwaukee’s police stops. Even after controlling for non-race factors such as local crime rates, he found that African-Americans are stopped six times more often than whites — even in areas that are predominantly white.

Has the explosion in stop-and-frisk activity caught many criminals or prevented crimes?

No. The professor also found that drugs and weapons were found in less than 1 percent of searches during traffic stops.

Does targeting African-Americans and Latinos actually catch more criminals?

No. According to the professor’s analysis, searches of African-American and Latino drivers were over 20-percent less likely to uncover drugs than searches of white drivers. This was true even after controlling for factors not directly related to ethnicity or race.

Would stopping these police practices start a crime wave?

No. A federal court ordered New York to bring its stop-and-frisk program into line with the Fourth Amendment’s requirements. That brought about a 98 percent drop in police stops between 2012 and 2016. Instead of a crime wave, New York has decreased to its lowest levels since the 1960s.

Milwaukee is not the only major metropolitan area with this problem. Expert analyses of police department data have found similar evidence of racial profiling in New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia so far. Other departments, including others in Wisconsin, may also be engaging in these pointless and illegal practices.

Race-based police stops have backfired, and it’s time to put an end to them. Police damage their relationship with the very communities they seek to protect.  The results cause a distrust in the criminal justice system and an unwillingness to cooperate with police investigations. Lavigne Fontaine & Swivedi, “How Do People in High-Crime, Low-Income Communities View the Police,” Urban Institute (Feb. 2017).

Practice Areas

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)