Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, December 5, 2011 8:20 pm

In which we return to Civics 101 for the benefit of the Milwaukee police chief and everyone else who was out back smoking dope when they should have been in class

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:20 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Racism is over. Really:

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.

The explanation for this ought to be good.

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.

What the hell does that even mean?

In an interview at police headquarters, Police Chief Edward Flynn acknowledged the department’s targeted crime-fighting approach can result in disparities because high-crime neighborhoods tend to have larger minority populations.

“I would say it’s not an unexpected consequence,” Flynn said. “If we are going to heavily engage with those communities that are both victimized and from whence a significant majority of our offenders come, we are going to generate disparities because of where we’re physically located.”

If he were talking about burglary arrests, this would make sense. But traffic stops? Uh, no.

Police stopped black and Hispanic drivers about five times as often as white drivers solely for equipment violations. Police have wide discretion when enforcing equipment violations such as a broken taillight or overly tinted windows.

Because there’s a well-known correlation between tinted car windows and high-crime areas.

The Journal Sentinel shared its findings with researchers who have studied racial profiling data in Wisconsin and other states. All confirmed the methodology and results of the newspaper’s analysis.

Good to know, but I’m not exactly shocked.

Wisconsin’s data collection law, which was passed when Democrats controlled the state Legislature and governor’s office, was created to determine if minorities were disproportionately stopped or searched. The data include information on the race, age and gender of drivers; reasons for stops and searches; and whether a driver was arrested, cited or given a warning during a traffic stop.

The statute went into effect in January but was repealed in June after Republicans had gained control of state government and responded to complaints from some law enforcement agencies that the form used to record traffic stops created unnecessary paperwork and took too much time to complete.

Funny how much Republicans like to claim that we live in a post-racial society and then destroy the evidence to the contrary.

Flynn credited his department’s proactive patrolling approach as a key factor in driving down the city’s crime rate. Since he took over in 2008, the Police Department has reported double-digit declines in violent and property crimes.

Flynn said he is willing to admit that his more aggressive strategy can lead to drivers being stopped more often in high-crime areas. He likened the situation to being frisked at an airport security checkpoint – a necessary safeguard.

Actually, growing numbers of Americans are coming around to the absolutely correct conclusion that a lot of airport security is a bullshit hassle, not a necessary safeguard, and that the two things most likely to prevent or stymie a hijacking are locking cockpit doors and passengers being prepared to fight back, neither of which has a thing to do with airport security (but then, where would our justification for an $80 billion corporate welfare program be?). But, hey, chief, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

“Yes, of course we are going to stop lots of innocent people. The point is, do folks understand what their role is as a cooperative citizen in having a safe environment?” Flynn said.

In fact, chief, I don’t have any role to play in being a “cooperative citizen in having a safe environment” besides refraining from crime myself and reporting those who do not. Other than that, the Constitution actually suggests another role entirely for citizens, and I’ll let Esquire’s Charlie Pierce take it from here:

Actually, chief, my role as a citizen is to protect my rights against the arbitrary intrusion of state power. It is to resist (peacefully) searches without warrants, and arrests without cause, and trials without effective counsel. That is the role spelled out for me in the first 10 amendments of the Constitution. I do not have a “role” as “a cooperative citizen” in any of these matters. I am an American with the rights thereof. You serve that reality or you do not serve anyone at all.

So, tell me, chief, what part of “to protect and to serve” do you not understand? Because from where I sit, it looks like all of it.

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