Stop and Frisk in Chicago


Read our new report on Stop and Frisk in Chicago

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Table of Contents

I. Executive Summary
II. Chicago’s History of Stop and Frisk
III. Stop and Frisk in Chicago – What the Data Shows
IV. Unconstitutional Stops and Frisks Damage the Relationship Between Police and the Community
V. Chicago’s Data Collection and Oversight of Stop and Frisks Is Insufficient
VI. Other Illinois Cities
VII. Recommendations
Appendix A: Stop and Frisk in Other Cities

I. Executive Summary

In the past year, the nation’s attention has turned to police practices because of high profile killings, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and Eric Garner in New York. But concerns about policing extend beyond the use of force and into the everyday interactions of police with community members.

In black and Latino communities, these everyday interactions are often a “stop and frisk.” Under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), officers are allowed to stop you if the officer has reasonable suspicion that you have been, are, or are about to be engaged in criminal activity. Once you are stopped, if an officer has reasonable suspicion that you are dangerous and have a weapon, the officer can frisk you, including ordering you to put your hands on a wall or car, and running his or her hands over your body. This experience is often invasive, humiliating and disturbing.

Chicago has failed to train, supervise and monitor law enforcement in minority communities for decades, resulting in a failure to ensure that officers’ use of stop and frisk is lawful. This report contains troubling signs that the Chicago Police Department has a current practice of unlawfully using stop and frisk:

  • Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop.
  • Stop and frisk is disproportionately concentrated in the black community. Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. And, even in majority white police districts, minorities were stopped disproportionately to the number of minority people living in those districts.
  • Chicago stops a shocking number of people. Last summer, there were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice.

In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers’ stops. Officers do not identify stops that result in an arrest or ordinance violation, and they do not keep any data on when they frisk someone. This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them.

The abuse of stop and frisk is a violation of individual rights, but it also poisons police and community relations. As recognized by the Department of Justice, the “experience of disproportionately being subjected to stops and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment shapes black residents’ interactions with the [the police], to the detriment of community trust,” and “makes the job of delivering police services … more dangerous and less effective.” See the Appendix, for summaries of DOJ reports.

In order to restore community trust, the City should make the following policy changes:

    Currently, officers are not required to record when they frisk someone. If there is no arrest, these searches are never subject to judicial review. Absent a record, supervisors and the public have no means to determine whether officers’ searches are lawful. Officers should record frisks, the reason for the frisk (which must be separate from the reason for the stop), and the results of the search (i.e., whether there was a weapon or other contraband and if so, what type). This should be accomplished by expanding and making permanent the Illinois Traffic Stop Statistical Study Act, which currently requires police departments to collect and publicly report data about traffic stops.
    Officers only record stops on contact cards when the stops do not lead to an arrest or ticket for an ordinance violation. Officers should record all stops, including those that lead to an arrest or ticket, and that data should be merged with the stops/contact card database or otherwise made identifiable and available to the public. In New York, this data proved to be a valuable benchmark to assess the legitimacy of the practice. Supervisors and the public should be able to compare how often officers’ stops lead to an arrest.
    Officers should receive regular training on the legal requirements for stops and frisks and how to record them properly. In a response to a recent FOIA request to Chicago, the City was not able to identify a single officer who received follow-up training (post-police academy) on how to lawfully conduct a stop and frisk since May 2011. Given that half of the reviewed stops did not contain a legal justification, this training is necessary.
    Officers should provide civilians with a receipt at the end of pedestrian stops, traffic stops, and consensual encounters. This receipt should state the officer’s name, the time and place of the encounter, and the reason for the encounter. Receipts will ensure a record of the event and facilitate any civilian complaints regarding the encounter.


Next: Chicago’s History of Stop and Frisk