Driven by Race: Chicago's persistent problem of Black and white traffic stops

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Tom Jones, and Maggie Green WLS logo
Thursday, February 22, 2024
Chicago's persistent problem of Black and white traffic stops
A new I-Team analysis of police records found that of more than 2 million traffic stops by Chicago police since 2016, 60% were Black drivers.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's not a new problem for Black motorists in Chicago: Police targeting vehicles with Black drivers more often than white drivers, and recent data analyzed by the ABC7 I-Team shows little improvement has been made to correct this inequity.

For Black motorists those traffic stops are also leading to more questionable searches.

"There's not a moment that goes by when police are riding behind me where I don't fear being pulled over," driver Edward Ward told the I-Team in 2020.

READ MORE: Chicago police more likely to stop Black drivers without citing them, data investigation reveals

Ward said in the first year he owned a car, he was pulled over by Chicago police seven times. Those statistics have shown little improvement in the years that have followed.

A new I-Team analysis of police records found that of more than 2 million traffic stops by Chicago police since 2016, 60% were Black drivers, even though Black residents make up 27% of the city's population. White drivers made up 13% of traffic stops, and are 32% of Chicago's population.

RELATED: Chicago police traffic stops skyrocket after CPD ends stop-and-frisk, data shows

And over those years, researchers say traffic stops have increased dramatically.

"We saw a huge increase in the number of traffic stops," said David Hausman, an associate professor of law at the University of California Berkeley.

Hausman and his co-researcher Dorothy Kronick examined the surge in Chicago police traffic stops in the past eight years.

Their study, titled "The Illusory End of Stop and Frisk in Chicago?" was published in 2023 and suggests one controversial police tactic in Chicago has been swapped out for another.

"What we do in this study is provide some evidence that traffic stops increased because they were meant to substitute for pedestrian stops," said Kronick.

Both researchers found a correlation between the annual number of traffic stops, starting in 2016, when the Chicago Police Department agreed to limit its use of pedestrian stops and searches, often referred to as "stop and frisk."

Their study concluded, "Four years after the end of stop and frisk, the number of police-civilian interactions remained nearly unchanged."

Chicago police have not responded to numerous I-Team requests for comment on the data and this report.

In 2020 city police officials said that officers are trained to stop vehicles after a traffic violation or potential crime, and they've said additional police resources "are deployed in areas with more violent crime."

"Understanding both the intended and perhaps unintended consequences of some of these policy changes is really important," Kronick told the I-Team.

An ABC 7 I-Team investigation examines those unintended consequences for Black motorists behind the wheel, including what's driving this "search switch" by Chicago Police and the costs to taxpayers.

UPDATE - Feb. 22, 2024: After this story was published, the Chicago Police Department e-mailed an apology to the I-Team for not responding to our inquiries. In the e-mail, a CPD official provided the following statement in response to our reporting:

"Fair and constitutional policing is the foundation of the Chicago Police Department's efforts to strengthen public safety and trust across the city.

Officers only conduct traffic stops when they have probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime, including but not limited to traffic violations, has been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed.

These stops are not conducted based on race or any other protected class.

Additionally, as part of our ongoing reform and consent decree compliance efforts, CPD mandates implicit bias training for all Chicago Police officers."