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Chicago Has a Bigger Problem with Stop-and-Frisks by Police Than New York Had

From the report by the ACLU of Illinois

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois suggests Chicago has a much greater problem with stop-and-frisks by police than New York in 2011, which is considered the “height of the practice” and two years before a court ruled the New York Police Department’s policy violated Fourth Amendment rights.

A “sample of 250 written justifications for stops that occurred in 2012 and 2013” were reviewed by the civil liberties organization. It also analyzed “four months of contact card data” from the summer of 2014, a period after the Chicago Police Department changed its policy to “limit the use of contact cards to stops and the enforcement of loitering ordinances.” (Contact cards are where police are supposed to justify why they had a “reasonable suspicion” to stop a person.)

The ACLU found [PDF] police provided an “unlawful reason” or “failed to provide enough information to justify the stop” in half of the stops reviewed. Black Chicagoans were also stopped at a disproportionate rate of 72% of the stops, even though they only make up 32% of the city’s population.

There were over a quarter of a million stops in Chicago that did not lead to any arrests in the summer of 2014. “Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice,” the ACLU also determined.

Though stops primarily occur in districts with large minority populations, in predominantly white districts, like Near North, Town Hall or Jefferson Park, the “disparity between black population and percentage of stops” was found to be “even starker than city-wide data.”

“Although Jefferson Park’s African American population is just 1%, African Americans make up almost 15% of all stops,” according to the ACLU.

Of the few hundred “narratives” for stops from contact cards that were examined, police stopped people “for associating with others who were suspicious or because they walked away from officers,” which is not a lawful justification for a stop.

Many times police did not fill out fields so that supervisors could determine if a stop was justified. Also, police stopped a number of people who “matched a description,” which the ACLU noted “would only be legitimate if there was a sufficient explanation of how they matched the description.”

Examples of police narratives on contact cards reviewed by the ACLU

 

Sometimes police would label a person “suspicious” and not even bother to provide any additional facts.

The failure to appropriately justify stops is compounded by the way in which Chicago police does not keep proper records on stop-and-frisks.

“Under existing CPD policy, there is no way to identify all stops—including stops which lead to arrests. Further, officers do not record or justify frisks. Therefore, unlike in other cities, we cannot assess how often the stops lead to arrest, who is frisked and why or how often frisks result in contraband.”

We Charge Genocide, a grassroots organization primarily led by youth of color in the city of Chicago, submitted a “shadow report” to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) last year that called attention to this very issue:

…Chicago fails to collect key information necessary to monitor and prevent racial profiling and harassment. For example, the Contact Cards system—which the CPD claims to use to track all contacts with civilians—does not have fields that explicitly state whether a person was stopped involuntarily and/or frisked. This leaves no avenue for the CPD or community members to determine how many people are stopped and/or frisked absent arrest and the alleged justifications for such detentions and searches. Thus, there is no department-level monitoring of such practices to determine whether they are being illegally used on a wide-scale basis, which the anecdotal information strongly suggests and the existing data appears to demonstrate….

Activists alleged this was a violation of Article 11 of the Convention Against Torture, which instructs all nations signed on to the treaty to “systematically review” the “custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.” [The UN Committee Against Torture mostly embraced the critique of We Charge Genocide (and other organizations which submitted critiques of the CPD).]

Remarkably, in 2014, WBEZ reported that Chicagoans were nearly six times as likely to be shot by police as New Yorkers were. Thirty-four people were killed by police in 2013, fifty-seven in 2012 and sixty in 2011. Because of how police keep data, there is no way of knowing how many times stops and frisks occurred before police fired their weapons.

The ACLU report comes in the middle of a runoff primary election between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Focus has been on putting more police on the streets. Garcia would like to put 1,000 more police on the Chicago streets like Emanuel promised but failed to do as mayor. However, Emanuel claims he moved 1,000 police from desk duty into “community policing.” CPD spokesperson Marty Maloney has said Chicago has “the most officers per capita of any of the five major cities in the country.”

Meanwhile, both campaigns have virtually ignored the issue of police abuse and violence. Emanuel failed to show up to a meeting with families of victims of police violence, who continue to be denied access to basic information about what happened to their loved ones. And, as allegations flew about abusive and unlawful conduct at Homan Square, Garcia could barely bring himself to utter more than a few canned words of concern about reports in the media.

There was outrage and activism around ending stop and frisk in New York City after details about the unlawful nature of the NYPD’s policy was exposed. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) brought a federal class action lawsuit that resulted in the city being held liable for the racist profiling and unconstitutional conduct of the NYPD. Mayor Bill de Blasio openly opposed the policy and seized upon calls for police reform to help him get elected. (Yet, he brought in William Bratton, who popularized the “Broken Windows” theory of policing, to run the NYPD and instantly made it near impossible to truly reform the police department.)

A similar class action lawsuit is likely imminent. One of the few and only ways that police are ever held accountable in Chicago is when the department or city is sued and forced to settle for millions of dollars.

The ACLU challenged a practice of “disorderly conduct” arrests that often involved stops and frisks with a lawsuit in the 1980s. This led to a sharp decline in these kinds of police interactions but then, in the 1990s, police used a “gang loitering ordinance” to justify tens of thousands of arrests “over 18 months of enforcement.” The ACLU sued and the US Supreme Court struck down the ordinance that was used as a “vehicle for stopping and searching young men of color.”

Again, these kinds of stops and searches became prevalent in the early 2000s. As the ACLU described, a “lawsuit on behalf of Olympic Gold medalist Shani Davis and several others, challenging a series of humiliating stop and frisk searches by Chicago police” was filed. That lawsuit led to changes in policy, “including a requirement to record why stops occur.” But police could still avoid putting down key information about why they were stopping people.

Secrecy around the police activity further compounds the problem. Despite having the Freedom of Information Act to require police to provide records, the CPD only agreed to provide “narrative sections of 300 contact cards, asserting there was a burden due to the need to redact personally identifying information from the narratives.”

The ACLU then provided various search terms the civil liberties organization thought would identify records of stop-and-frisks in contact card database. The search terms yielded 18,943 contact cards. CPD would only provide 300 narratives from the contact cards. If the ACLU wanted any more records, they would have to sue, which would mean years before they could put out any report on this abusive policy.

A reasonable suspicion that police abuse and rely upon stop-and-frisks in a manner that leads to racist policing exists. But there still is a lot of information the public does not and should know in order to have a complete picture of how the CPD and city officials are permitting people of color to have their constitutional rights routinely violated by officers.

Plus, as the ACLU points out, this does not appear to be a problem limited to Chicago. The policy CPD employs, of engaging in unlawful stop-and-frisks while keeping minimal records, seems to be in place at various police departments throughout the state of Illinois.

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Chicago Has a Bigger Problem with Stop-and-Frisks by Police Than New York Had

From the report by the ACLU of Illinois

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois suggests Chicago has a much greater problem with stop-and-frisks by police than New York in 2011, which is considered the “height of the practice” and two years before a court ruled the New York Police Department’s policy violated Fourth Amendment rights.

A “sample of 250 written justifications for stops that occurred in 2012 and 2013” were reviewed by the civil liberties organization. It also analyzed “four months of contact card data” from the summer of 2014, a period after the Chicago Police Department changed its policy to “limit the use of contact cards to stops and the enforcement of loitering ordinances.” (Contact cards are where police are supposed to justify why they had a “reasonable suspicion” to stop a person.)

The ACLU found [PDF] police provided an “unlawful reason” or “failed to provide enough information to justify the stop” in half of the stops reviewed. Black Chicagoans were also stopped at a disproportionate rate of 72% of the stops, even though they only make up 32% of the city’s population.

There were over a quarter of a million stops in Chicago that did not lead to any arrests in the summer of 2014. “Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice,” the ACLU also determined.

Though stops primarily occur in districts with large minority populations, in predominantly white districts, like Near North, Town Hall or Jefferson Park, the “disparity between black population and percentage of stops” was found to be “even starker than city-wide data.”

“Although Jefferson Park’s African American population is just 1%, African Americans make up almost 15% of all stops,” according to the ACLU.

Of the few hundred “narratives” for stops from contact cards that were examined, police stopped people “for associating with others who were suspicious or because they walked away from officers,” which is not a lawful justification for a stop.

Many times police did not fill out fields so that supervisors could determine if a stop was justified. Also, police stopped a number of people who “matched a description,” which the ACLU noted “would only be legitimate if there was a sufficient explanation of how they matched the description.”

Examples of police narratives on contact cards reviewed by the ACLU

Sometimes police would label a person “suspicious” and not even bother to provide any additional facts. (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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