Rodriguez v. United States: Supreme Court Says No to Prolonged Traffic Stops

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court decided City of Los Angeles v. Patel, the fourth and final of its search-and-seizure cases this term. In Patel, the Court overturned a city ordinance requiring hotel operators to share information about their guests with the police.

Patel confirmed this as a good term for Fourth Amendment rights, joining Grady v. North Carolina (GPS tracking of sex offender counted as search for Fourth-Amendment purposes) and Rodriguez v. United States (police improperly extended traffic stop to conduct dog sniff of car). Less favorable, though, was Heien v. North Carolina (no suppression of evidence obtained after traffic stop that was based on officer’s reasonable mistake of law).

The remainder of this post will focus on Rodriguez, which strikes me as the most interesting of the Fourth-Amendment series. Broadly speaking, at issue was the extent to which the police can go on a fishing expedition when they pull over a driver for a traffic violation.   Continue reading “Rodriguez v. United States: Supreme Court Says No to Prolonged Traffic Stops”

Deadly Force in Philly (and Milwaukee)

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a voluminous report on uses of deadly force by the Philadelphia Police Department.  In recent years, there has been a drop in both violent crime and assaults on police officers in the City of Brotherly Love, but officer-involved shootings (OISs) have remained stubbornly high.  Amidst media coverage of rising OIS numbers in 2013, the Police Department requested assistance from the DOJ in order to assess the problem.

The new report, authored by George Fachner and Steven Carter, finds there were 394 OISs in Philadelphia between 2007 and 2014, for an average of 49 per year.  The suspects were unarmed in 15% of the cases.  Fachner and Carter provide a wealth of data regarding the 394 OISs and dozens of recommendations for the Department.

One recommendation is, “The PPD should publish a detailed report on use of force, including deadly force, on an annual basis.  The report should be released to the public.”

I’m pleased to say that we are already doing such annual reports here in Milwaukee.  How do the numbers compare?

Continue reading “Deadly Force in Philly (and Milwaukee)”

Mercenary Justice?

Earlier this week, the United States Department of Justice released a scathing report on police and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri.  Figuring prominently in the DOJ’s criticisms, Ferguson criminal-justice officials were said to be overly concerned with extracting money from defendants.  For instance, the DOJ charges:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. The court’s practices also impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety. (3)

I don’t know how fair these particular criticisms are, but they echo numerous other criticisms made in recent years about the increasing tendency of the American criminal-justice system to rely financially on a burgeoning array of fines, surcharges, fees, forfeitures, and the like.

Professors Wayne Logan and Ron Wright have a fine recent article on this subject, appropriately entitled “Mercenary Criminal Justice” (2014 Ill. L. Rev. 1175).   Continue reading “Mercenary Justice?”

Milwaukee Arrests Rarely Involve Force, But Incidents Are Concentrated in Some Districts

Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission released its annual report on police uses of force for 2013.  The report counts 895 incidents in 2013, employing a very broad definition of “use of force” that does not require either an injury or the use of a weapon.  To put that number into perspective, the Milwaukee Police Department made more than 30,000 arrests in 2013.  For each arrest in which force was used, there were about thirty-six arrests in which force was not used.

In nearly three-quarters of the use-of-force-incidents, no weapon was used by the police officer.  In the remaining incidents, the most commonly used weapons were Tasers and pepper spray.  Firearms were used on forty occasions, most commonly on dogs.  Firearms were used against human subjects in fourteen incidents; eleven of the subjects were hit.

Data from previous years indicate that Taser and pepper spray use is in sharp decline.   Continue reading “Milwaukee Arrests Rarely Involve Force, But Incidents Are Concentrated in Some Districts”

Milwaukee Residents Give Solid Marks to Police

Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (of which I am a member) released the results of its first-ever survey of citizen attitudes toward the police.  Although the survey identified a few areas of concern, the overall tenor of citizen attitudes seems positive.

Conducted for the FPC by UWM’s Center for Urban Initiatives & Research last summer, the survey involved telephone interviews of 1,452 Milwaukee residents.  As detailed in the CUIR’s report, the survey respondents were reflective of the city’s diversity in racial composition and in other respects.

The report’s lead finding is that about three-quarters of Milwaukee residents report that they are at least somewhat satisfied with the Milwaukee Police Department, while only about nine percent said they were “not at all satisfied.”  These findings are notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that fully one-quarter of the respondents reported being stopped by the police in the past year.  One might suppose that this group would be predisposed to negative evaluations of the police.  However, the vast majority (71%) of those stopped felt that they were treated fairly.  The MPD has significantly increased its number of stops in recent years, but it does not appear that involuntary contact with the police normally leads to hard feelings by the person stopped.

Given recent racial tensions in Milwaukee and nationally regarding policing practices, it is especially important to note the racial patterns in survey responses.   Continue reading “Milwaukee Residents Give Solid Marks to Police”

New Research on Violence

The new issue of Criminology features several interesting papers relating to violence and its control.  This has been a hot topic here in Milwaukee over the past few months.  Perhaps some of the emerging policy proposals would benefit from the new research:

First, an unusual controlled experiment in St. Louis provides support for “hot spots” policing, especially when officers proactively engage with citizens in the high-crime neighborhoods.  Researchers working with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department randomly assigned hot spots for firearm violence to one of three conditions: (1) a control group; (2) an enhanced visibility group in which officers were directed to patrol slowly through the targeted areas, but to refrain from self-initiated activity unless a crime was in progress; and (3) an enhanced activity group in which officers were directed both to increase patrols and to increase self-initiated activities, which might include arrests, pedestrian stops, vehicle checks, and so forth.

Continue reading “New Research on Violence”

Wisconsinites Give Criminal Justice System Poor Marks, Especially for Offender Rehabilitation

We expect a lot from our criminal-justice system, and we don’t seem very impressed with the results we are getting.  These are two of the notable lessons that emerge from the most recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin residents, the results of which were released earlier today.

In one part of the survey, respondents were asked to assess the importance of five competing priorities for the criminal-justice system.  As to each of the five, a majority indicated that the priority was either “very important” or “absolutely essential.”  The five priorities were:

  • Making Wisconsin a safer place to live (91.6% said either very important or absolutely essential)
  • Ensuring that people who commit crimes receive the punishment they deserve (88.1%)
  • Keeping crime victims informed about their cases and helping them to understand how the system works (81.0%)
  • Rehabilitating offenders and helping them to become contributing members of society (74.1%)
  • Reducing the amount of money we spend on imprisoning criminals (51.2%)

The especially high level of support for “making Wisconsin a safer place to live” was notable in light of the much smaller number of respondents (21.4%) who said that they or an immediate family member had ever been the victim of a serious crime.  This is line with results from last July’s Poll, which indicated that more than 85% of Wisconsinites feel safe walking alone in their neighborhoods at night.  Still, making the state safer remains a high priority for more than 90% of Wisconsin residents.

Respondents were separately asked how well the system was performing along five separate dimensions.   Continue reading “Wisconsinites Give Criminal Justice System Poor Marks, Especially for Offender Rehabilitation”

Police Get Good Marks, From Citizens of All Races

Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission announced that it would conduct its first survey of citizen satisfaction with the police.  The results should provide us with helpful new ways to evaluate the Milwaukee Police Department’s performance and identify areas in need of improvement.

Unfortunately, media coverage provides a very distorted picture of police-citizen interactions.  What makes the news, of course, is when officers become violent or exhibit extreme callousness.  When video is available of such incidents, as is increasingly common, the vivid images may be repeated endlessly on TV or circulate virally on social media.  Viewers may be left with the impression that such incidents are the norm.  However, the vast majority of police-citizen interactions occur without anything newsworthy happening.  Among other things, the Commission’s new survey should give us a much better sense of what happens in the more routine interactions and how those interactions affect public perceptions of the police.

Although this sort of survey data has not been available for Milwaukee specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics did conduct a national survey in 2011 regarding police-citizens interactions.  The results, released in two reports earlier this fall, indicate a remarkably high level of citizen satisfaction, even among the minority groups who seem to bear the brunt of the high-profile incidents of police misconduct.   Continue reading “Police Get Good Marks, From Citizens of All Races”