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360: A look at Milwaukee police citing reckless drivers and the impact it is having

Milwaukee Police
Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 19:39:24-05

MILWAUKEE — It has been nearly a year since the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) launched its traffic safety unit, dedicated in part, to cracking down on reckless drivers. TMJ4 takes a 360 look at traffic tickets and if police can write their way out of Milwaukee’s reckless driving problem.

“Speed is now eclipsing drunk driving as a killer on our nations highways and here in Wisconsin as well,” said Judge Richard Ginkowski, the head of the Wisconsin’s Municipal Judges Association and a Pleasant Prairie judge.

Milwaukee and Wisconsin are dealing with a growing number of reckless driving deaths. This deadly behavior is part of the reason the Milwaukee Police Department started a traffic safety unit a year ago in February. So what has changed? TMJ4 News talked to members of MPD’s Traffic Safety Unit, a judge who is seeing reckless drivers regularly in court and a mother who lost her son to a reckless driver.

Milwaukee Police
[File photo] (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

“He was just coming home from the gas station. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, and he’s now gone,” said Julie Wellinger who’s son was killed by a speeding driver.

Jerrold Wellinger, 22, and his friend Devonte Gaines were killed at 60th Street and Hampton Avenue in the summer of 2021. Milwaukee Police say two cars were racing at speeds of 120 miles and hour when they hit Jerrold and Devonte, killing them. Since then, Julie has filed a petition with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office calling for stiffer penalties for reckless drivers.

“Bottoms line, it’s the consequences. There has to be higher consequences because you can fly right over a speed bump,” said Julie.

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"He was just coming home from the gas station. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. And he’s now gone," said Julie Wellinger who lost her 22-year-old son to a reckless driver.

On Feb. 24, 2021, MPD stepped up enforcement by starting a traffic safety unit.

“We’re looking for the excessive speeders, reckless drivers, weaving in and out of traffic, passing on the right hand lane of traffic,” said MPD Captain Jeffrey Sunn.

From the start of the unit until Feb. 7, MPD has issued 20,700 tickets and 11,666 have been for speeding.

“Probably, if I did 20 stops, 15 of them are going to be 20 or more over. Some days it gets frustrating. It gets hard to, because it continues to happen. You feel sometimes you aren’t making a difference but everyone that we do pull over, eventually it does make a difference,” said MPD Officer Melissa Krug.

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Captain Jeffrey Sunn of the Milwaukee Police Department heads up the Traffic Safety Unit. It was started on February 24, 2021.

After speeding, the second biggest violation is not having a license. For every 10 people MPD stops, two do not have a valid license. Judge Ginkowski says he seeing the revolving door in his court room.

“They get tickets for driving with a suspended license, they get tickets for their traffic violations, they wind up digging themselves into a hole that’s very difficult and very costly to get out of,” said Ginkowski.

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Judge Dick Ginkowski sees reckless drivers regularly in his courtroom.

He says even if the tickets have severe fines attached or the threat of a suspended license, some people just don’t care.

“The biggest problem that we have is people blowing it off. Not showing up, not responding to a traffic ticket. In this court, in this room we’re sitting in now, on any given court day, about two-thirds of the people will not show up or pay their tickets,” said Ginkowski.

Even Milwaukee Police say traffic tickets cannot be the only answer to stopping reckless drivers. MPD’s Chief of Staff Nick DeSiato says they are now working on two different proposals to go after repeat reckless drivers. That includes suing them in civil court.

reckless driving

“That continued violations would then, in theory, put you subject to contempt of court, and then a contempt of court involves both criminal and civil remedies that hopefully could that affect your behavior,” said DeSiato.

The other proposal is to tow the cars of reckless drivers. That would be anyone driving more than 25 miles over the speed limit or engaging in behavior like drag racing, which killed Julie’s son.

“We’re trying to be creative. We're trying to have a solutions that are really driven from the community, ways that clearly citing people and stopping isn't doing, so we got to up the ante,” said DeSiato.

Right now, both of those proposals have stalled. But the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission says it will look to revisit the towing proposal in March.

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