A review of how Terry stops have been used in Chicago demonstrates a persistent problem – inadequate training, supervision and monitoring of law enforcement in minority communities. In the early 1980s, the Chicago Reporter found that more than 100,000 citizens were arrested for “disorderly conduct” during sweeps of high-crime neighborhoods. These arrests were usually preceded by a stop and frisk. These cases almost never resulted in convictions because the police generally did not show up in court to defend the arrest. An ACLU lawsuit successfully challenged this practice and, as a result, disorderly conduct arrests and their accompanying stops and frisks plummeted.(1) However, these unnecessary stops and arrests created feelings of alienation in African American and Latino communities in Chicago.

In the 1990s, Terry stops re-emerged under the guise of the so-called “gang loitering ordinance.” That ordinance – later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in another ACLU lawsuit – resulted in more than 40,000 arrests over 18 months of enforcement.(2) These massive numbers of people were arrested and searched ostensibly for refusing to follow dispersal orders, but the reality was that the ordinance was a vehicle for stopping and searching young men of color.

In the early 2000s, unwarranted stops and searches were still commonplace. In 2003, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Olympic Gold medalist Shani Davis and several others, challenging a series of humiliating stop and frisk searches by Chicago police.(3) Data collected in connection with that suit showed a pattern of unjustified stops and searches, resulting in the unnecessary detention of young people, mostly young people of color. As a result of the Davis lawsuit, the Chicago police made changes to their policy of stopping and searching on the streets, including a requirement to record why stops occur. However, the manner in which the City implemented the recordkeeping has proved insufficient.

Today, Chicago’s reliance on stop and frisk has increased dramatically and legitimate doubts about the constitutionality of the City’s method of executing these stops have only increased.


(1) Michael Nelson v. City of Chicago, 83-C-1168 (N.D. Ill.). (2) See City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999). (3) See Complaint for Plaintiffs, Davis v. City of Chicago, 219 F.R.D. 593 (N.D. Ill. 2004), (No. 03 C 2094), 2003 WL 23800673.


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