Chicago police officers are required to record and justify their stops on “contact cards.” However, as discussed in detail in Part IV, the Chicago Police Department’s data collection presents problems with analyzing stops. For example, the CPD does not record stops that lead to arrests or tickets and makes no record of frisks. And prior to April 2014, officers used contact cards to record voluntary interactions with civilians, making it difficult to isolate stops and frisks.(4) This report analyzes a sample of 250 written justifications for stops that occurred in 2012 and 2013. It also analyzes four months of contact card data from 2014, after a CPD policy change limited the use of contact cards to stops and the enforcement of loitering ordinances.

A. A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF STOPS ARE NOT JUSTIFIED BY REASONABLE SUSPICION. According to the landmark Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), police officers may only conduct stops when they have a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or will commit a crime. They may only do a frisk if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person they stop is armed and dangerous. The basis for reasonable suspicion must go beyond an officer’s vague “hunch” or personal biases, and the officer “must be able to point to specific and articulable facts” that justify such an intrusion.

We reviewed 250 randomly selected narrative fields from the contact card database.(5) Even though the department requires that officers record the reasons for the stop, for half of the stops we reviewed, the officer did not record legally sufficient reasons to establish reasonable suspicion. Stops made without sufficient cause violate the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In some narrative fields, the officers stated that they stopped people for reasons unrelated to a suspicion of a crime. For example, officers stopped people for associating with others who were suspicious (6) or because they walked away from officers, (7) neither of which would justify a Terry stop. In other narrative fields, officers failed to provide enough information for anyone, including their supervisors, to determine whether the stops were justified. For example, officers stopped many people who “matched a description,” which would only be legitimate if there was a sufficient explanation of how they matched the description.(8) In other cases, officers provided so little information that it was impossible to determine if the stop could be justified, such as merely labeling a person as “suspicious” without additional facts.(9)

The following are examples of officers’ narrative explanations that do not justify a stop:

Supervisors are required to review the facts and circumstances of each individual stop, correct the officer, and if necessary, recommend training or discipline to officers who have failed to provide a legal justification for a stop.(11) Based on our review of these stops, both police officers and supervisors need additional training on when a stop is legally justified and more resources should be dedicated to officer supervision.

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.

A review of the contact card database for the four-month period of May through August 2014 indicates that African Americans are disproportionately subjected to stops when compared to their white counterparts.(12) Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population.(13)

Also, there are more stops per capita in minority neighborhoods. For example, in the minority district Englewood there were 266 stops per 1000 people, while in the predominately white district Lincoln/Foster there were 43. While this may be the result of a plan to address crime in those neighborhoods, we strongly question the legitimacy of this enforcement approach. We defer an empirical analysis of this practice to our next report on Chicago Police Department practices.

In any event, the difference in stop rates among different races also occurs outside minority communities. In Chicago’s predominantly white police districts—Near North, Town Hall, and Jefferson Park—the disparity between black population and percentage of stops is even starker than city-wide data. For example, as seen in the charts below, although Jefferson Park’s African American population is just 1%, African Americans make up almost 15% of all stops.

[Click on the charts to enlarge]

There were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest in Chicago for the time period of May 1, 2014 through August 31, 2014. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped at a far higher rate than New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice in 2011.(14)

(4) Compare Special Order S04-13-09, effective date Feb. 23, 2012, available at, and Special Order, 04-13-09, I(C), April 3, 2014, available at (discontinuing the routine documentation of “Citizen Encounters.”). The ACLU of Illinois had repeatedly advocated with the City for this change, which was positive, but did not go far enough.
(5) The Chicago Police Department’s Freedom of Information Act office would agree only to produce the narrative sections of 300 contact cards, asserting there was a burden due to the need to redact personally identifying information from the narratives. The narrative section is the field where officers are to record the reasons for a stop. The ACLU randomly selected 300 entries from 18,943 contacts in the contact card database. These contacts were from June 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012 and March 1, 2013 through May 31, 2013. During this time period, the CPD included records of various kinds of police interactions in this database – not just stops. The CPD ran a word search of terms selected by the ACLU to identify stop and frisks in that broader database. It is possible that some records of stops did not contain the search terms. This resulted in the 18,943 cards from which the 300 entries were randomly selected. We identified 252 of the 300 narratives as describing stops.
(6) People v. Lee, 214 Ill. 2d 476, 486, 828 N.E.2d 237, 245 (2005) (finding probable cause “to arrest a particular individual does not arise merely from the existence of probable cause to arrest another person in the company of that individual”); People v. Surles, 2011 IL App (1st) 100068, ¶ 34, 963 N.E.2d 957, 965 (2011) (applying Lee and finding that association with someone engaged in criminal activity not sufficient for reasonable suspicion under Terry).
(7) In re Rafeal E., 2014 IL App (1st) 133027, ¶ 29, reh’g denied (Aug. 19, 2014), appeal denied, No. 118281, 2014 WL 5619892 (Ill. Oct. 30, 2014) (refusing to expand Wardlow to circumstances where the individual is “walking” rather than engaging in a “headlong flight”). (8) People v. Washington, 269 Ill. App. 3d 862, 867, 646 N.E.2d 1268, 1272 (1995) (“Because no evidence of the offender’s appearance had been introduced, the trial court had no opportunity to determine whether the description of the offender and the physical characteristics of the defendant were similar enough to justify the detention of the defendant.”).
(9) People v. Croft, 346 Ill. App. 3d 669, 676, 805 N.E.2d 1233, 1240 (2004) (“stopping an individual because he looks ‘suspicious’ … without more, is insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion”). See also Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21 (1968) (“And in justifying the particular intrusion the police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”).
(10) People v. Slaymaker, 2015 IL App (2d) 130528, ¶ 20 (finding no reasonable suspicion for a stop and search because of “bulging”).
(11) Special Order, 04-13-09, V(C)(1)(c), effective Jan. 7, 2015.
(12) This dataset does not include cards categorized as “dispersals.” Similar patterns are found in the truncated 2012-2013 data described in footnote 5.
(13) Chicago population of 2,684,481 and race percentages come from 2011 census data of police beat populations as analyzed and made available by Professor Wesley Skogan of Northwestern University. It does not include populations at Cook County Jail, Metropolitan Correctional Center of Chicago, or the Cook County Juvenile Center. Unrounded percentages equal less than 100 due to a small number of individuals with “unknown” race. (14) NYPD Stop, Question and Frisk Report Database, NYC.GOV, available at We have removed the stops that resulted in summons or arrest from the New York database so we are comparing similar datasets. New York City population of 8,405,837 is the 2013 estimate from, accessed on January 30, 2015.
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