Chicago’s stop-and-frisk epidemic

March 30, 2015

Chicago police are now leading the way in racial profiling, reports Elizabeth Schulte.

HUMILIATING, ISOLATING and epidemic. There's no other way to describe the Chicago Police Department's use of stop-and-frisk, as chronicled by a new report by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Chicago police stopped a quarter of a million people over a four-month period in 2014 without arresting them, according to the report, surpassing New York City, where years of protest against stop-and-frisk forced the policy of racial profiling into the national spotlight--and led a federal judge to declare in 2013 that the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk violated the constitutional rights of Black and Latino New Yorkers who were targeted.

But Chicago police made four times as many stops per resident as the NYPD, according to the ACLU report based on reviewing a sampling for "contact cards" that Chicago police fill out after they have stopped someone. New York recorded 23 stops per 1,000 people at the height of the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk in 2011--a number that decreased to two stops per 1,000 people in 2014. Chicago reported 93 stops per 1,000 people in the summer of 2014.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

As is the case in every city where stop-and-frisk is police policy, it is used disproportionately against Blacks. From May through August 2014, Chicago police stopped 182,048 African Americans, 72 percent of all street stops--though Blacks make up about 32 percent of the city's population. Whites accounted for just 9 percent of police stops, though they are also 32 percent of the population. Around 17 percent of people stopped were recorded as Hispanic by the CPD; Latinos make up 29 percent of the population.

In neighborhoods where Blacks are the majority, there were more total stops. In the predominately Black Englewood police district, there were 266 stops per 1,000 people--and in the predominately white Lincoln/Foster district, there were 43.

In the neighborhoods that are mostly white, police stopped Blacks at an even higher rate. For example, in the Jefferson Park police district on the Northwest Side, police stopped Blacks 15 percent of the time, even though they are just 1 percent of the population.

The ACLU investigation revealed glaring flaws with the police department's record-keeping that allowed this harassment to go under the radar.

When Chicago police officers make a stop, but don't arrest the person, they are required to fill out a "contact card," which includes the address and phone number of the person detained, as well as any identifying features like tattoos, and a description of the reason for the stop. The cops don't have to fill out the card if the stop leads to an arrest or a ticket, which makes it difficult to track whether the person's civil rights were violated afterward. Police are also not required to record whether they frisked or patted down the person they stopped.

But Chicago police had trouble carrying out even these few requirements. The ACLU found, "Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop."

For example, 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."

WHILE INDIVIDUAL officers may not be following the "rules," the decision to use of stop-and-frisk come right from the top.

Before Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired him to come to Chicago in 2011, CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy served as police director in Newark, New Jersey--where police are still being monitored after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered a "pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing."

According to a Justice Department investigation, "Approximately 75 percent of reports of pedestrian stops by Newark Police Department officers failed to articulate sufficient legal basis for the stop, despite the NPD policy requiring such justification," and "The NPD stops Black individuals at a greater rate than it stops white individuals."

When a New Jersey Star-Ledger reporter asked why McCarthy' internal affairs department had dismissed so many complaints against the department, he said, "So the cop always has to be wrong? Drug dealers make allegations against police officers every day to stop them from doing their job."

While McCarthy didn't invent the police practice of targeting African Americans--the CPD has its own filthy history of that--he did play his own role in making stop-and-frisk a part of the everyday landscape. A November 2013 Chicago Tribune article on stops by Chicago police reported:

There is no quota on how many contact cards must be filled out by individual officers each workday, according to the sources, but if too few have been written in a district, commanders risk incurring McCarthy's wrath in front of peers at weekly meetings on CompStat, the department's data-driven strategy that uses crime statistics and street intelligence to hold police brass accountable for the neighborhoods they oversee.

"Everything will improve if we just get out of the cars and put our hands on people," McCarthy said last January as he peppered a deputy chief, a rank above district commander, with questions about a steady jump in shootings on the South Side, according to a transcript of a CompStat meeting.

Tribune sources also said that the police brass often viewed officers who made more stops as harder-working. But, the Tribune pointed out, "that can become problematic for officers who question the validity of the stops."

After the release of the ACLU report, police officials defended the profiling of Black Chicagoans by claiming that more police officers are deployed to high-crime areas on the South and West sides, where much of the Black population live. "Deployment of officers is dictated by where the murders and violent crimes take place," one officer told the Tribune. "It doesn't seem to me to be indicative of racial profiling or anything of the sort as much as it's a product of where officers are deployed."

In other words, the CPD denies it's using racial profiling--but then blames Black Chicagoans for being stopped, because they are Black.

This new ACLU report should be more reason for people to stand up and oppose the racism of police departments around the country--and demand resources for programs that provide jobs, education and other services to people who live in underserved neighborhoods, not for the police who harass and intimidate them.

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