Chicago Police officers stopped 598,332 drivers in 2019 - that's more than 1,600 traffic stops a day citywide. In collaboration with other ABC Owned Stations, our analysis of police data shows Black drivers make up a greater proportion of Chicago traffic stops than their proportion of the population, meaning a simple trip to work or the store can often lead to police contact. As a result, Black drivers tell the I-Team they often feel targeted behind the wheel.
"I've been pulled over by the police quite a few times," said Edward Ward. He told the I-Team in the single year he has owned a car, he says he's been pulled over by Chicago police officers seven times.
"You're just preparing for police to pull you over. I mean there is not a moment that goes by when police are riding behind me where I don't fear being pulled over," Ward told the I-Team.
In 2019, Chicago police stopped 368,332 Black drivers - more than six in 10 of all traffic stops citywide. But when you factor in the greater number of white drivers on the roads than Black drivers, the racial disparity is even worse.
In Chicago, Black drivers are stopped at a rate almost 5.6 times higher than white drivers.
"Black drivers were stopped, so much more often than white drivers, and it really raises concerns," said Rachel Murphy, ACLU of Illinois. "There is something happening in Chicago that needs to be addressed."
The number of traffic stops in Chicago is significantly increasing. In 2014, Chicago police only pulled over 87,355 people. Last year alone they pulled over a half a million more drivers than five years ago.
As the number of police stops increase and police continue to stop Black drivers at a far greater rate, our data analysis shows they're actually citing Black drivers less often than white drivers. That means while Black drivers are more likely to be pulled over, they're less likely to be cited for wrong-doing.
"All the increase in the surge has been among innocent people," said Wesley Skogan, Northwestern University Crime Policy expert. "These are the kinds of things that are piling up and it makes people know that they're being disrespected. People know that their time isn't worth anything, people know that the police completely suspect them of everything, even if they end up doing nothing. So the weight of this kind of policing is just enormous on poor Black neighborhoods in Chicago."
"It is really concerning to think, what kinds of strategies CPD is using that's resulting in these kinds of disparities, and especially not seeing a lot of actual traffic citations, really suggests that these stops are being used for some pretextual reasons. It's resulting in harassment of communities of color, without any kind of, you know, seemingly legitimate police justification," said Murphy.
In a statement, CPD tells the I-Team "Officers are trained to stop vehicles after a traffic violation or potential crime has occurred. While more resources are deployed to areas that have more violent crime, we do not target individuals based on race or community."
We teamed up with other ABC Owned Station investigative teams to track this problem nationwide and found that on average since 2014 in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Houston, the disparity between Black and white police stops is smaller than in Chicago.
"I'm both angry and sad. It's just like you look at the system and there are these, these harsh realities that people of color have to face, harsh realities that Black people face," said Ward.
While our data investigation reveals Black drivers are stopped at a far greater rate than white or Latinx drivers, there's also a new trend emerging in the data: police stops of Latinx drivers are skyrocketing. While overall, traffic stops have greatly increased since 2014, Latinx drivers had the highest percent increase in the past year -- jumping 27%.
"The percentage of stops who are Latino has gone really up. This is clearly a change in the, in the neighborhood strategy where you're going after people where you're making the stops. And it's been Latinos who've been bearing the brunt of the increase in the number of innocent stops," Skogan said.
Latinx drivers are also stopped by Chicago police at a rate more than twice that of white drivers.
"I would love to see the racial disparities greatly reduced, I love to see the numbers of stops greatly reduced," Murphy told the I-Team.