Milwaukee PD Can’t Demand to See Your SSN

By Leticia Miranda Oct 16, 2009

The Milwaukee Police Department just released a memo that says they’ll be nice about asking for your Social Security Number. They’re pledging: no more threats, no more hostility. The reform came after Matt Nelson, a local small business owner and spokesperson for the Milwaukee Police Accountability Coalition, filed a formal complaint against officer Robert Ferrell after he threatened to arrest Nelson if he didn’t hand over his social security card. In March of 2008, Ferrell was investigating a burglary and aggressively approached Nelson who was standing outside of his business. The cop demanded to see Nelson’s social security card. When Nelson refused (just FYI: everyone regardless of citizenship status has the right to refuse to show their social security) Ferrell threatened him.

"Give me your Social Security Number or I will cuff you and throw you in the back of my police car for obstructing an officer," he said.

Nelson with the support of Milwaukee Police Accountability Coalition, a project of the Freedom Now! Collaborative, pursued litigation of the officer filing a formal complaint against him and demanding that Milwaukee PD change its protocol around asking people to show their SSN. A year later MPD agreed saying that they’ll now adhere to federal privacy standards and not harass, intimidate or demand to see anybody’s SSN. Just now? Well anyway… This reform is no doubt a major victory for immigrants and immigrant rights advocates in the local Milwaukee area and could have a major impact on national efforts to fight police brutality. But what’s still true is that there are more than 100 local county police departments, and growing, that have MOUs with ICE across the nation under the 287(g) program. This doesn’t include those cops and departments who have less formal ‘agreements’ to find and arrest people who "look" undocumented. Nonetheless, I’ll take a victory when they come. Check out the Milwaukee-based group that got MPD to change their walk.