CHICAGO –Five Black and Latino Chicago motorists, Plaintiffs and proposed class representatives in Wilkins v. City of Chicago et al., are asking Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to block CPD from sidestepping their case by moving oversight of traffic stops in the city under the Consent Decree process that has moved at a “snail’s pace” due to CPD’s recalcitrance. Last month, after years of complaints and warnings about the CPD’s mass traffic stop program, the federal court overseeing the consent decree set a public hearing on Tuesday, June 11th for testimony about “what specific traffic stop-related requirements should be added to the Consent Decree, if any.”

The Court order follows a hearing in October 2023 in which the issue of including traffic stops under the consent decree was publicly discussed. There was no indication at that time how the decree would address the problems of discriminatory traffic stops or what steps would address the issue, and several community members testified that they preferred other mechanisms for fixing CPD’s traffic stop practices.  In the intervening months, there was no indication that the parties in the consent decree were working to move traffic stops under the decree process. 

The Wilkins plaintiffs have a clear and distinct interest in how the issue of discriminatory traffic stops is addressed and reformed, leading to today’s filings. 

“As our clients have made clear in their complaint, discriminatory traffic stops are an urgent problem in Chicago,” said Alexandra Block, director of the Criminal Legal System and Policing Project at the ACLU of Illinois who represents the Wilkins plaintiffs. “More than a half million Chicago motorists, mostly Black and Latino, are being stopped each year with no benefit to public safety. Moving oversight under the consent decree – without a transparent plan for immediate and accountable transformation of CPD’s practices and policies – does not meet the community’s need for urgent change.” 

The request to intervene in the consent decree process comes as another federal judge has ruled that the Wilkins case may move forward. Judge Mary Rowland largely denied the City’s motion to dismiss the case and held that the Wilkins Plaintiffs can proceed on their claims that the mass traffic stop program violates their rights under the federal Equal Protection Clause and the Illinois Civil Rights Act. The Court found that the Wilkins Plaintiffs presented sufficient facts to show that the City intentionally discriminated against Black and Latino drivers on the basis of race, and that the mass traffic stop program unlawfully burdens Black and Latino drivers disproportionately. 

The Wilkins lawsuit alleges that CPD officers are more likely to pull over Black and Latino drivers than white drivers, flooding neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of the City with traffic stops for alleged minor equipment and registration violations. The issue of racially discriminatory traffic stops in Chicago has been reported publicly for years. The number of traffic stops has grown astronomically in recent years, from fewer than 90,000 in 2015 to more than 500,000 in 2022 and 2023.  Data shows that since 2016, Black drivers in Chicago have been 4 to 7 times more likely than white drivers to be stopped by police; Latino drivers have been twice as likely to be stopped as white drivers. The data presented also shows Chicago police are also far more likely to search Black and Latino drivers and their vehicles, even though the police often have higher rates of finding illegal contraband in the vehicles of white drivers.

While CPD has consistently failed to address this problem – even as the number of stops increased dramatically – Superintendent Snelling publicly responded to the release of video footage of CPD officers shooting a Black driver, Dexter Reed, ninety-six times during a pretextual traffic stop by calling for traffic stops to be brought under the consent decree. CPD could have unilaterally ended its program of pretextual stops, but did not do so.

The Wilkins plaintiffs have asked the court overseeing the consent decree to allow them to participate in proceedings to determine whether the consent decree should be modified so they are not crowded out of any discussions about ways to end CPD’s mass traffic stop program.  The Wilkins plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU of Illinois and the law firm Arnold & Porter.

The Wilkins plaintiffs also note that CPD has not used the consent decree process to make real changes since the final Consent Decree was entered in January 2019.  The most recent Monitor report about progress under the decree shows that the City has fully met its requirements in only 7% of the Decree’s provisions. Moreover, CPD repeatedly has been called out by the Monitor for failing to engage the public in the reform process, a problem that would be exacerbated by cutting off the Wilkins clients from meaningful discussions on reform of the traffic stop program. 

“CPD has moved at a snail’s pace in making change under the Consent Decree – something which already frustrates members of the community across Chicago,” added Block. “It is simply unacceptable to allow their recalcitrance to be extended to traffic stops and to eliminate the voices of our clients in this process.” 

“We urge the court to ensure that our clients’ voices are heard in this process.”