Illinois State Police combat expressway shootings with new technology and tactics

ByChuck Goudie, Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Ross Weidner and Jonathan Fagg WLS logo
Saturday, May 21, 2022
Chicago interstates are among the worst nationwide for expressway shootings with more than 500 shootings here since 2019, a data investigation found.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new data investigation into the startling number of expressway shootings in the Chicago area reveals a rapid climb in shootings here in the past three years.

Expressway shootings are high speed crimes, often stretching violence across miles of Chicago roadways. The ABC7 I-Team data team's analysis reveals Chicago interstates are among the worst in the country for shootings, with more than 500 shootings here since 2019.

The I-Team went along for the ride with the new Illinois State Police squad fighting back. On a recent evening, they tracked an SUV that had been reported stolen to a South Side gas station just off the Dan Ryan Expressway. As ISP converged, the SUV driver fled, nearly backing into the squad car the I-Team was in before being pinned in by troopers.

Inside the SUV, they discovered an AR-style semi-automatic rifle. According to troopers, the weapon was in back seat with the 17-year-old passenger when they sped off. A 15-year-old was at the wheel, according to state police.

"Right there, depending on how much ammunition in that weapon being used, it's how many lives saved?" Capt. David Keltner said.

Data analysis reveals that since 2018, I-94 in Chicago has seen the second most expressway shootings in the country. The Eisenhower Expressway is also in the top 10 nationwide.

The I-Team's nationwide data investigation with ABC News and ABC Owned Stations reviewed data collected by the independent research group Gun Violence Archive. The data revealed a 57% spike in shooting incidents on or near expressways from 2019 to 2021. Over that period, the data analysis captures 2,143 incidents, more than 1,200 people wounded or injured and at least 530 people killed.

ABC7 I-Team reporter Chuck Goudie explains how the I-Team investigated the actions Illinois State Police are taking to combat expressway shootings.

Those already stunning numbers are likely an undercount due to inconsistent tracking of these incidents nationwide.

"It's almost like a modern form of of dueling," Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said. "This is a serious issue. This is a real phenomenon. This is a new type of crime that we've seen develop over the past few years. But law enforcement is doing everything we can."

To combat the threat, Illinois State Police leaders have moved the state's best troopers to a new squad based in Chicago and installed license plate readers to target stolen vehicles or help investigators locate cars close to shootings.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure people can come and go and move around and go about their lives safely on the Chicagoland area expressways," Kelly said.

"When my sister was shot, there was nobody around," said Alma Hill. "People don't understand, when these guns on the expressway, my sister was just going to work. She was just going to work."

Hill's sister, postal worker Tamara Clayton, was shot and killed on Interstate 57 on the way to work in 2019. Her case is still unsolved. Hill hopes the new camera funding law named in her honor will help make the streets safer.

"Who would have thought that a postal worker going to work that would start this cascade of events where they're able to solve cases and make arrests," Hill said.

"The problem that we have too is that many rounds that are being put out in incidents, they're also killing a lot of bystanders just in the wrong time and at the wrong spot," said Capt. Keltner.

The night the I-Team rode along, state troopers began pursuing another apparently stolen SUV, but lost the suspects when they ditched the vehicle behind a concrete wall.

"They were tucking it behind the dumpsters trying to hide it away," said Capt. Keltner.

Minutes later, the squad hit on what they said was a new stolen that SUV the suspects were in. Back at the gas station, troopers discovered one of the suspects was already on electronic monitoring and found a new concern with the recovered weapon: high-powered ammo that will go through a bulletproof vest. Now it's off the streets.

"It's a win for us tonight," said Capt. Keltner. "We just need to keep battling, keep making a difference one stop at a time, and locking folks up and recovering those guns so they can't be used for crimes."

Those juveniles are charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle, fleeing and gun crimes.

Data obtained by the I-Team reveals that in all of 2021, ISP recovered 233 guns. They're already at 119 for 2022. So far this year, there are 11 fewer shootings than last year and no homicides.