Why the ACLU's New Numbers on Stops in Chicago Aren't Enough

Stop-and-frisk may have gained notoriety in New York City, but a new analysis finds Chicago police stops people more often than their New York counterparts do, and is less transparent about it.
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(Photo: Arvell Dorsey Jr./Flickr)

(Photo: Arvell Dorsey Jr./Flickr)

During one four-month period, the Chicago Police stopped people at a rate four times higher than New York City police at their peak, a new analysis by the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union finds. The stops affected black Chicagoans disproportionately: Black Chicago residents were nearly eight times as likely as white ones to be stopped, and four times as likely as Latino residents.

Anonymous police sources told the Chicago Tribune they thought the disproportionate numbers might stem from the fact that many more officers are deployed to neighborhoods in the south and west that have high crime and have higher black populations. But the ACLU analysis also found blacks are much more likely to be stopped in predominantly white neighborhoods. For example, in the Near North District, only nine percent of residents are black, but blacks make up 58 percent of the people that police stop.

To know whether a police department's stopping practices are effective and worthwhile, it's important to know how many stops result in the discovery of contraband, or lead to an arrest.

The numbers the ACLU found are provocative, but simultaneously not revealing enough. To know whether a police department's stopping practices are effective and worthwhile, it's important to know how many stops result in the discovery of contraband, or lead to an arrest. Unlike the New York Police Department, which attracted national attention in 2013 for controversy over its stop-and-frisk practices, Chicago police don't record those numbers. Among the ACLU of Illinois' top recommendations is that they start.

In 2013, a federal judge found the New York Police Department unfairly targets black and Latino men and violates the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable search and seizure. (Both blacks and Latinos were stopped at higher-than-proportional rates in New York, whereas the numbers on Chicago showed only higher rates for black residents.) One of the arguments Judge Shira Scheindlin used to make the case that the way New York police performed stop-and-frisks was unconstitutional was that "nearly 90 percent of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest." Just the sort of information that's not available for Chicago.

Chicago's missing data keeps police practices "hidden from scrutiny," as Chicago's WBEZ reported in 2013. The ACLU's numbers should be just a start.

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