As the Chicago mayoral election puts a spotlight on public safety and police-community relations, a new report on police traffic stops in the city offers insight into racial inequities that persist.
A report by BPI and the Free2Move Coalition found that from 2015 to 2021, the average Black Chicago driver was six times more likely to be stopped than the average White driver. Latino drivers were twice as likely to be stopped than White drivers.
José Manuel Almanza Jr., director of advocacy and movement building at Equiticity and coordinator for the Free2Move Coalition, said he was pulled over several times as a teenager and through his adult life.
“I get nervous, I get sweaty, my heart starts racing, I start stuttering and I ask myself, ‘Am I looking suspicious?,’” Almanza said. “This is conversations that I hear from folks all over the West Side and South Side of Chicago.”
The report also found that the Chicago Police Department has increasingly been doing more traffic stops over the past few years.
Traffic stops have increased almost seven times from 2015 to 2019, jumping from nearly 85,965 traffic stops in 2015 to 598,515 traffic stops in 2019, according to the report. The number dipped in 2020, which the report said is likely due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders at the start of the pandemic. Traffic stops ticked back up in 2021.
Loren Jones, staff attorney at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and member of the Free2Move Coalition, said the impact from stops such as arrest and citation disproportionately harm Black and Latino people.
“The stops that we looked at for this report are based entirely on the stops that they’re (police are) making because they saw a traffic violation and then decided to continue to investigate for signs of criminal activity,” Jones said. “This needle-in-a-haystack approach is leading to immense harm in communities around Chicago.”
The Chicago Police Department declined to join a “Chicago Tonight” panel discussion but sent a statement saying in part: “Officers only conduct traffic stops when they have probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed. These stops are not conducted based on race. Additionally, as part of our ongoing reform and consent decree compliance efforts, CPD mandates implicit bias training for all Chicago Police officers.”