When asked to step up enforcement of ticket scalping ordinances outside Milwaukee's largest arena, the city police got aggressive. Ticket sellers were arrested, handcuffed, tossed into a van until an arena manager could be summoned to warn them never to return—and then held in jail for up to eight hours without being allowed a phone call. All for what is not a crime but an ordinance violation (similar to a speeding ticket) that carries not a jail term but a maximum fine of $161.

Some actual scalpers—per-sistent loiterers outside the Bradley Center who repeatedly try to sell tickets for profit—were caught in the operation, which netted about 100 arrests in February. But most of the offenders were first-timers who were merely trying to dump a couple of extra tickets for less than face value. It's not clear how many were actually taken to jail.

In stepping up the scalping enforcement, the MPD was responding to a request by the Bradley Center and its primary tenant, the resurgent Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team. But it was the cops who decided not merely to issue citations and send the offenders on their way.

"You can't even go to jail for this offense; all you have is a fine," says Milwaukee attorney Michael Sperling, who is representing one of the arrestees, a Bucks season-ticket holder who had sold two tickets worth $80 for $30. "What they did is far worse than what can happen even if you are found guilty of the offense."

Complaints spurred the Bucks and the Bradley Center to hold another meeting with police, which according to the Bucks resulted in a new policy: First-time offenders will get a citation and only repeat offenders will be taken to jail for processing.

But the initial news of the arrests spurred a two-day firestorm on talk radio and enough official second-guessing of embattled MPD Chief Arthur Jones that Jones called Mayor John O. Norquist—at 7 a.m. at home on a Saturday—to complain. That call, in turn, spurred a controversy over whether the mayor wanted the chief out.

Sperling's client, investment firm owner Kevin Perlberg, said he was surprised but pleased by all the public attention. "I want people to know about this. This is absolutely ridiculous," he said. "How could someone feel they have so much power that they could do that to people?"