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  • Writer's pictureMilwaukee Freedom Fund

We Can’t Punish, Fine and Tow Our Way to Safety: Milwaukee's new tow policy starts May 1st.

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

On May 1st, Milwaukee Police Department will begin towing vehicles allegedly engaged in various forms of reckless driving, if the vehicle does not have valid registration/plates.

Spring 2022: The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission passed a new measure giving the police authority to tow unregistered vehicles that have engaged in at least one of four infractions: reckless driving, speeding 25 mph above the speed limit, fleeing police or racing. It instructs police to tow those cars during a traffic stop or otherwise whenever an officer “comes into contact” with a vehicle involved in a crash investigation.

*The tow fee will supposedly be waived for stolen vehicles.

Check your registration and license: Before May 1st, is a good time to check that your license and plates are valid. It's easy to do on the WI DMV free, instant tools:

  1. Check to see if your plate/registration is suspended here:

  2. Check to see when you need to register your vehicle here:

  3. While you’re at it, check to see if your driver’s license is suspended here:

  4. Check to see if the Milwaukee Municipal Court judges issued a warrant to try to collect unpaid ticket debt by searching your name here:

If you know your personal info, it only takes a few minutes to do.

If your driver's license is suspended, you may be able to get FREE legal assistance to get a valid driver's license.

Why do people have unregistered vehicles?

There are two main ways for someone to have an unregistered vehicle:

1) they fail to register the car, often because they can't afford the fee or they can't afford to fix what's wrong with their car to pass emissions or

2) their registration is suspended.

The largest cause of registration suspensions is unpaid parking tickets (non-moving violations).Because our community uses police to respond to so many issues, citations are incredibly common. Milwaukee's Transportation Fund issues approximately 600,000 parking citations each year. There are nearly 500 citations issued in Milwaukee County every day.

We could send non-police responders instead of armed police that often ticket, arrest and harm.

A recent audit of Milwaukee Police Calls recommended sending non-police responders to 22% of calls currently handled by Milwaukee Police Department. For example, nearly 11% of police calls for service are for "trouble with subject, low priority." The report recommended sending unarmed community responders or mental health professionals instead of armed police, who often ticket, arrest, and harm the individuals they interact with.

However, because Milwaukee currently use police to respond to so many issues, traffic and non-traffic citations are incredibly common, for everything from having an unregistered vehicle to "loitering". There were nearly 170,000 citations issued in Milwaukee County in 2019. That means that EVERY DAY there are nearly 500 citations issued in Milwaukee County. There are 14x as many citations issued as there are criminal cases filed in Milwaukee County.

If citation debt isn't timely paid, Milwaukee Municipal Court's judges choose to suspend your driver's license or issue a warrant.

Harmful government debt collection cause hundreds of thousands of registration suspensions and driver's license suspensions each year in Wisconsin.

In WI, there were over 82,000 registration suspensions and nearly 189,000 driver's license suspensions for unpaid ticket debt in 2019. Milwaukee Municipal Court had over 56,000 active warrants caused by nonpayment of tickets in 2020. Operating While Suspended was the most common ticket issued in Milwaukee Municipal Court in 2018.

In 2020, people in Milwaukee had outstanding debt of over $34 million in unpaid parking citations & Milwaukee County Circuit Court is estimated to have processed more than $7 MILLION dollars worth of citation debt in 2019 alone.

Driver’s license suspensions cost people their livelihoods and increase the risk of police interactions. Without a license, you can't do many jobs, you can’t take your children to school, buy groceries, or get the healthcare you need.

Many people have no choice but to continue driving — meaning they risk more fines and fees, a criminal conviction, and incarceration. The city could forgive debt and eliminate the practice of suspending registrations for ticket debt, making it easier for our community to drive safely and legally.

Millions of dollars are extracted from our neighbors and overwhelmingly from Black and Brown Milwaukeeans.

Nearly 75% of outstanding debt in Milwaukee Municipal Court is owed by Black people. In 2016, that meant that Black people owed over 23 million to the Milwaukee Municipal Court to pay outstanding citation judgments.The zip codes with the highest rates of poverty are also burdened by the most debt and the people dealing with the constant harm of overpolicing suffer the greatest cost.

*An independent analysis of 2020 MKE policing stops found that Black drivers were 9.5x more likely, and Hispanic & Latinx drivers almost 3x as likely, to be pulled over than white drivers.

Milwaukee Can’t Punish, Fine and Tow It’s Way to Safety: We Deserve Safety Without Expanding Criminalization. We Must Decriminalize Poverty.

Milwaukee judges can forgive ticket debt and stop using suspensions and warrants to collect debt- so more people can drive safely and legally. We can use unarmed responders as suggested by a recent study. We can stop overpolicing, ticketing, towing and targeting communities. We can stop harming families, and widening racial and socioeconomic barriers in neighborhoods that are already working to thrive. We can get to the root cause of reckless driving and find ways to help our neighbors. Milwaukee has authority to invest in infrastructure, emergency response, and community resources outside of police, courts, and punishment. Our city could lessen harm instead of making it worse.


As Milwaukee overhauls stop-and-frisk practices, new report shows racial disparities got even worse in 2020:

Free To Drive Campaign:

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