Debate over Chicago Police Department's traffic stop strategy moves to federal court

ByBarb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones and Chuck Goudie WLS logo
Tuesday, June 11, 2024
Debate over CPD's traffic stop strategy moves to federal court
As the I-Team reported, CPD traffic stops soared during the last 10 years, from a little more than 100,000 in 2013, to more than a half million traffic stops in 2023.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The debate over Chicago's long-criticized police traffic stop strategy moved into federal court on Tuesday.

At the center of the debate was whether vehicle stops and searches -- branded internally at Chicago Police headquarters as the "traffic stop strategy" -- should fall under federal oversight as part of the reform consent decree.

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That consent decree was put in place in 2019 in an effort to reform the Chicago police department after a justice department investigation found a history and pattern of civil rights violations.

The ABC 7 I-Team has been investigating CPD's stop and search strategy for decades: from original street-corner pat-downs of so-called suspicious people infamously referred to as "stop-and-frisk" to the new version of curbing cars for minor equipment violations that then turn into full vehicle searches.

On Tuesday, Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer heard from dozens of people on both sides of the issue, as she considers whether to place traffic stops under federal oversight.

One name that came up often during the public testimony: Dexter Reed.

The CPD traffic stop turned fatal shoot-out with armed motorist Reed almost three months ago deepened the debate about when and why officers should be permitted to pull over motorists.

Four officers fired 96 shots at Reed in less than a minute during the stop last March, after investigators with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability said they believe Reed fired first.

Now, Judge Pallmeyer is considering whether traffic stop tactics should become part of the Justice Department decree that has already required CPD to make expansive changes in training, supervision and policies.

As the I-Team reported last month, CPD traffic stops soared during the last 10 years, from a little more than 100,000 in 2013, to more than a half million traffic stops in 2023.

Tom Lam, an advocate representing the Chinatown and Bridgeport communities, testified that he believes traffic stops have reduced violent crime.

"A lot of the community has been demonizing law enforcement," Lam said. "I came to speak to tell my perspective of the traffic stops in the Chinatown neighborhood, and how greatly that it has reduced crime."

Many public speakers argued given the slow rate of CPD's compliance with items under the consent decree, this decision is the wrong move.

A recent progress report released by the consent decree's independent monitor found Chicago in "full compliance" with only 7% of reform changes in the consent decree.

Some fear, if forced into the long list of consent decree items, traffic stop reform may be a long time away from implementation.

"We heard a lot from community members and their concern with the structure of the consent decree and also their fear that including traffic stops into the consent decree will create stagnant progression," said Joi Imohbio with the group Impact for Equity, an organization that has researched CPD's use of traffic stops for years.

Imohbio and others said if traffic stops are added to the consent decree, it could bar the recently formed Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability (CCPSA) from working with CPD to create a new policy surrounding the types of traffic stops officers are permitted to do.

CCPSA President Anthony Driver told Judge Pallmeyer on Tuesday that the commission has been barred from working on items that are covered under the consent decree.

Speakers at the hearing said the CCPSA is the right place to address traffic stops.

"The Commission for Public Safety and Accountability really should take the forefront lead role in making sure we have better policy on traffic stops, said 49th Ward community advocate Michael Harrington. "The Commission can act quickly, which is what we want to see: a quick resolution of this very important issue. The consent decree-part of the process is long, slow, and drawn out."

Changing police traffic stop policy will not happen overnight, and neither will a decision about whether to make it part of the court-ordered federal oversight decree.

In court on Tuesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling acknowledged years of problems with traffic stops especially in Black and Brown communities.

Snelling says there is a need for traffic stop reform and he says the federal Consent Decree is the place for those reforms to be put into action.