CPD traffic stop strategy could soon face federal consent decree oversight

ByBarb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones and Chuck Goudie WLS logo
Friday, May 24, 2024
CPD traffic stop strategy could soon face federal consent decree oversight
Law enforcement experts tell the I-Team the stops and sometimes searches play a vital role in fighting crime.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Critics have said for years that the city needs long overdue oversight of the Chicago police department's use of everyday traffic stops to sometimes conduct driver and vehicle searches.

Now, for the first time, Chicago's police superintendent agrees.

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This week, CPD Supt. Larry Snelling agreed to federal oversight through a years-old court supervised consent decree aimed at reforming department practices; a welcome move to many but some civil rights groups have said it's a step in the wrong direction.

The ABC 7 I-Team has been reporting on the contentious traffic stop strategy used by Chicago police, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of drivers pulled over for minor traffic infractions.

Critics argue the stops are pretextual, and that the real intent behind some of these stops is to search the driver and their vehicle for anything illegal. Law enforcement experts tell the I-Team the stops and sometimes searches play a vital role in fighting crime.

That's why a court-appointed independent monitor has said federal oversight would benefit the community, carried out through the 2019 consent decree, aimed at reforming CPD after years of civil rights violations.

In a statement to the I-Team, a spokesperson for CPD said, "Supt. Snelling is committed to ensuring traffic stops are being used effectively to stop violent crime. As part of this commitment, CPD has agreed to include traffic stops in the consent decree."

Former city inspector general Joe Ferguson, who has overseen the consent decree process for years, tells the I-Team it's the right move.

"Traffic stops are essentially just an extension of what has been under some form of monitor-ship," Ferguson said. "it makes sense in the context of the consent decree, because what we're talking about is the question of constitutional policing, which is the touchstone for the consent decree."

Court filings in the consent decree case show the issue of CPD's traffic stops has come up repeatedly.

At an Oct. 26, 2023, court hearing on the consent decree, transcripts show independent monitor Maggie Hickey addressed the fact that in five years, the number of traffic stops has grown citywide.

"We have asked community members to consider providing feedback on whether monitoring the CPD's traffic stop policies, trainings, and practices belong in the consent decree, or do they belong somewhere else?" Hickey testified.

The Illinois Attorney General's office also addressed CPD's use of traffic stops at that hearing.

"The huge growth in traffic stops by CPD has not produced a comparable improvement in public safety," Assistant Illinois Attorney General Bill Lowry, Jr. testified. "While the benefits of the overreliance on traffic stops [has] been difficult at times to see, the costs of this approach have become clear based on the data."

This week, CPD said it's making progress on the number of traffic stops conducted this year.

"We have already been reviewing our use of traffic stops and are providing Fourth Amendment Training to all officers," a spokesperson for Chicago police said. "This year so far, traffic stops are down approximately 70,800 traffic stops year-to-date and felony arrests have increased by 425 arrests year-to-date."

Not everyone's pleased about adding traffic stops to consent decree oversight.

"We're very concerned with this," said Ed Yohnka with the ACLU. "This is obviously, a huge problem in the city of Chicago... there are thousands, mostly black and brown motorists in Chicago who are being pulled over delayed, stopped, searched, humiliated, for no purpose whatsoever."

Yohnka said, "What it really suggests is that that the can will just be kicked further down the road, that traffic stops will become one of a laundry list of things at which CPD will not move very quickly in terms of making change."

Yohnka pointed to the most recent progress report released by the consent decree's independent monitor this week.

The report, released on Thursday, found Chicago in "full compliance" with only 7% of reform changes in the consent decree.

Ferguson said while "there's room to grow," CPD has been making progress.

"We have been lagging the entire time," Ferguson said. "It's not on [CPD Supt.] Larry Snelling. He is trying. The question is, 'Does he have the adequate support and resources to actually drive this, to make CPD not merely in compliance with the consent decree, but a continuous change organization?' which is really what's needed."

Hickey said in this week's report that, "The Independent Monitoring Team was pleased to learn Superintendent Larry Snelling indicated that the CPD-and the Chicago communities they serve-would benefit from federal oversight of the CPD's traffic-stop practices."

On June 11, there will be a public hearing in U.S. district court where community members can explain what specific traffic-stop-related requirements should be added to the consent decree, either remotely or in-person.

Any member of the public can attend the hearing virtually from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through this Zoom link here or by calling into the meeting: 646-931-3860, using access code 99967721132#.

In-person attendants will be welcomed from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Dirksen Federal Building, courtroom 2541. Members of the public can also call into the in-person session by calling 877-336-1839, and dialing access code 6708061.

Independent monitor Hickey says the goal of expanding Chicago's consent decree is "to create policy and training expectations for CPD's traffic-stop practices that will improve community interactions, transparency, trust, and safety."