Traffic stops are just one of several strategies Milwaukee police are using to curtail disorder in high crime neighborhoods.
Wisconsin incarcerates more black males that any other state. As we’ve reported in past segments, some people accuse Milwaukee police of pulling over too many black men, some for minor traffic violations - which spiral into jail time.
Capt. Tom Stigler disagrees.
He oversees a district that sends hundreds of black men to prison.
Stigler says there’s a good reason officers pull over a lot of vehicles in the north side district.
More stops result in less crime.
And he says police are especially vigilant about halting burglaries and auto thefts because they destabilize neighborhoods and demoralize residents.
“If somebody has a 10-year-old car and they have to drive to work every day, say in Brookfield or Waukesha or the south side, wherever the jobs are, even if it’s down in the Menomonee Valley, they need that car to get to their job. And when they wake up in the morning and their 10 year old car is gone, it has a tremendous negative impact on their life. Most of these people do not have a couple thousand dollars laying around to go out and buy another car. The car is probably not insured to be replaced. The likelihood is they may lose their job on top of losing their car. If there is a burglary, people work hard and they save up money and they buy a big screen t-v, and someone steals a minivan and they park in an alley and they break into a house while that person is at work and they take their t-v, that has a tremendous impact on the psyche of that family or that occupant. There is nothing worse than being the victim of a burglary. It impacts you’re whole perception of your neighborhood. It impacts how you sleep at night. So, we really try to have an impact on those two crimes. And, the best way to impact those two crimes is by conducting traffic stops of people we think might be involved in auto thefts and/or burglaries. The data has shown that we can have a direct impact on those two crimes by the number of traffic stops. In the last seven years, we have increased our traffic stops by hundreds of thousands in the city and the rate of burglary and auto theft has dropped,” Stigler says.
He adds most traffic stops, result in just a warning to the driver. Stigler says he wishes more residents understood the police perspective.
“It sometimes can get frustrating for law enforcement because we have part of the community coming to us and saying, ‘you need to do something about this problem,’ and then you have other segments of the community saying ‘you’re just targeting them.’ When we see a group of young black males hanging out on a corner, I expect my officers to engage those young black males. Data shows that frequently those young black males can be engaged in illegal activity. Now all the time is that true? Absolutely not. But it is my officers’ job to step up, talk to those citizens, and if you nobody’s doing anything wrong, they’ll have a positive interaction with the community and everybody will be on their way. But, if somebody’s involved in some illegal activity, I expect my officers to take proactive enforcement because the people that live on that block, when they try to walk to the corner bus stop, they don’t want to walk through that very intimidating group that are probably dealing drugs or they’re lookouts for something, and those are the kinds of complaints we get. You have citizens that are asking for our help to have an impact on these problems but then at the same you’re frequently accused of racial profiling or trying to shut down an African American tavern when the reality is, that’s not the case at all. The case is we are trying to do our job to the best of our ability because that’s what the community asks us to do,” Stigler says.
When it comes to arresting black men for drug offenses, Stigler says elected leaders set the rules.
“When you talk about drug offenses, do we incarcerate a higher percentage of African American males in this community than non-African American males, I don’t know. But, I think that’s what people believe and I think people are taking a look at that. You know, I think society is changing. I don’t’ think we’re sending people to prison anymore for possession of marijuana, or even dealing marijuana. When I was in narcotics 15 years ago, when you dealt marijuana it was the same as dealing crack cocaine. It’s not perceived the same way anymore. Should it be? You know, that’s for society to decide,” Stigler says.
Part 3 of Bob Bach's Police Ride-Along: Police Seek End to "Get Even" Violence