Cheronis & Parente LLC

Criminal Defense Blog

ON BEHALF OF CHERONIS & PARENTE LLC   /   January 23, 2015

Does race play a role in Chicago traffic stops?

Many drug cases in Illinois find their start in a traffic stop. There are many different valid reasons for police to conduct a traffic stop on an individual. One thing, however, that one would hope would never be the reason behind a police officer deciding to pull a driver over is the driver’s race. Worryingly though, a recent study raises serious concerns as to whether police decisions regarding who to conduct traffic stops on are actually racial-bias-free here in Chicago.

The study, done by the Illinois affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, indicates that African-Americans are disproportionately the targets of Chicago traffic stops as compared to what percentage of the city’s population they make up. According to 2010 census data, around 32 percent of Chicago’s population is African-American. Meanwhile, the study found, using data from the Chicago Police Department, that African-Americans made up nearly 46 percent of traffic stop targets in Chicago in 2013. This is a rather stark disparity. 

ACLU reviews also indicate that there is a racial disparity when it comes to Chicago police conducting vehicle searches during traffic stops. Reportedly, in 2013, the likelihood of a Latino or African-American driver having their vehicle be the subject of a police search during the course of a traffic stop was over four times as high as the likelihood for white drivers. 

The Chicago Police Department has said that policing based on racial profiling and racial bias is prohibited by the department and that the department has a strong commitment to preventing such profiling/bias from seeping into police actions. However, some significant questions regarding race and policing in Chicago are raised by the ACLU’s findings.

What do you think is causing the disparities the ACLU found? Is it due to direct bias/profiling, some more unconscious type of bias or something else? How big of a problem do you think racial bias in traffic stops, searches and other types of policing is here in Chicago? Are there any actions that Chicago has not taken when it comes to preventing racial bias in policing that you think it should? 

Source: Chicago Tribune, “Chicago police stop black motorists more, ACLU finds,” Jeremy Gorner, Dec. 26, 2014

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