Milwaukee shootings: Curfew enforcement to ramp up

Milwaukee plans to crack down on curfew violations. The law has been on the books for decades, but the new push follows a weekend of shootings.

Violence erupted Friday night on Water Street, but none of the people arrested thus far were under 17 years old.

"At my direction, the Milwaukee Police Department will step up enforcement of the curfew that we already have on the books," Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Tuesday.

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City resident Ryan Thompson remembers getting a ticket when he was about 13 years old.

"I got my ass whooped. It taught me not to be out without somebody older than me. I didn’t like it then," he said.

Now, he supports it. 

"The curfew, I think it’s a good idea. It needs to be enforced around the whole city, though," Thompson said. 'If the same little guy that’s walking right here on 3rd is out past 10 or whatever the curfew, if you go down on Water Street and see the same brat down there walking, yeah, put them in the same holding tank or car."

Plans of Milwaukee curfew signs

"I think it’s actually great. I think parents can get actually more involved with their students, and their kids," said Melissa Harris, a mother of a teen. "We know it’s hard for parents. They have to work and have a lot of stuff to do, but at some point, you've got to take responsibility for your kid, because you had ‘em."

Mayor Johnson says the police will enforce the curfew throughout the city, something the chief says they do reluctantly.

"This is not what we want to do. This is not something that we take any enjoyment in, but there has to be a line," said Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman. "There has to be accountability."

The city has held people accountable for decades. Court records show the numbers of charges in recent years: 

  • 2022 (year to date): 16
  • 2021: 72
  • 2020: 49
  • 2019: 70
  • 2018: 62
  • 2017: 93
  • 2016: 128
  • 2015: 148
  • 2014: 224
  • 2013: 422
  • 2012: 435
  • 2011: 539
  • 2010: 555

Attorney Robert Courtney fought Milwaukee's ordinance all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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"It interferes with the parent’s authority," he said. "It creates a category. We don’t punish adults for being out late, and I got to tell you, adults create a lot of mayhem."

His case dates to January 1986, with a dance at the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center, an event to promote college. Police issued curfew violations to roughly 95 kids, including two of Courtney's clients.

"It’s a waste of law enforcement time," said Courtney. "They’re dealing with people who aren’t doing anything bad. We have plenty of bad people here that they could be dealing with."

Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin Supreme Court

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in support of the curfew, saying: "We likewise find the Milwaukee curfew ordinance to be supported by the compelling interest of the city in controlling the nighttime activities of youths in order to protect both youths and the community from juvenile crime."

The curfew's protection for youth was echoed in what Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman said Tuesday.

"We had a number of young adults or juveniles who were unfortunately harmed in this. We need to make sure our young ones are inside the house after curfew," he said. "We need to have parents step up to ensure their children are off the streets."

Anyone under the age of 17 must be off the streets and out of public spaces by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends and during the summer.

Signs will go up to remind people of the citywide curfew for youth.

Fines are $94 for kids under the age of 17 and $195 for their parents. 

The curfew offers a number of exceptions: being with a parent, guardian or adult, along with times when exercising First Amendment rights of speech, religion or assembly.