Feb. 23 (UPI) -- The Milwaukee Police Department was accused in a class action lawsuit Wednesday of using racially-based stop-and-frisk tactics and a quota system to motivate officers to stop random black and Hispanic people during the last seven years.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday on behalf of six black and Hispanic men and women who allege MPD officers have stopped them multiples times for no apparent reason, and in some cases bordered on harassment when stopping them unnecessarily.
The tactics go back to 2010, ACLU lawyers say in the lawsuit, suggesting the police department has aimed the tactics specifically at minority and improverished groups, eroding the relationship between the department and citizens in the recent years.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said, however, that his officers are not indiscriminately targeting minority groups, and instead are following crime statistics and found the tactics to be effective.
"Black and Latino people throughout Milwaukee -- including children -- fear that they may be stopped, frisked, or otherwise treated like criminal suspects when doing nothing more than walking to a friend's house or home from school, driving to and from the homes of loved ones, running errands, or simply taking a leisurely walk or drive through the city," the suit says.
ACLU lawyers say they have spoken with people throughout the community who have described stop-and-frisk tactics being widely applied, as well as various forms of harassment.
Based on reviews of police reports, the lawyers say it is clear officers are pulling people over for no good reason based on how many refer to a "suspicious" circumstance or offer no explanation at.
Statistics show these stops are disproportionately black and Hispanic people, the ACLU's lawyers say -- for example, about three-quarters of traffic stops from 2010 to 2012 were black people, despite less than 40 percent of the city's population being black.
The lawsuit also included a letter from the police union to the department alleging officers are being told to make at least two traffic stops per day or receive disciplinary action, suggesting a quota system is in place regarding the use of stop-and-frisk to reduce crime.
The department recently released statistics showing most homicide and aggravated assault victims are black and most suspects in each type of crime are black to partially justify aiming the tactics at specific groups of people.
The department also said citizen complaints have gone down, noting that the plaintiffs in the class-action suit are among those int he city who have not filed complaints for harassment against officers.
"Traffic stops in high crime areas have been proven to reduce the number of non-fatal shootings, robberies, and motor vehicle thefts," Flynn said in a statement. "No discussion of our crime tactics is complete without reference to the hyper-victimization of disadvantaged communities of color by high rates of violent crime. But MPD considers it our moral duty to confront violence where it occurs. Towards that end, our officers take physical risks every day implementing the ethical and constitutional anti-crime strategies of the MPD."