ACLU: Chicago leads NYC in use of stop-and-frisk

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Chicago says the Chicago Police Department leads the NYPD in the use of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” practice. The report highlights the use — or overuse — the practice and makes the argument that the justification for such stops often fails to meet constitutional standards. 

The report indicates that last summer, the Chicago Police Department conducted more than 250,000 stops of civilians that did not lead to arrest. The ACLU said Chicagoans were stopped four times more often than people in New York City.

Stops per 1,000 residents was 93.6 in Chicago compared with 22.9 — at the highest point in 2011 — in New York City. The NYPD has been forced to curb significantly its use of stop-and-frisk after a federal judge found the use in that city to be unconstitutional.

“While most of the media coverage has suggested that that stop-and-frisk was a New York phenomena, it’s misuse is not limited to New York,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Chicago has been systematically abusing this practice, for reasons that are not justified by our constitution.”

“And just like New York, we see that African Americans are singled out for these searches,” said Grossman.

A “stop-and-frisk” search has become common in African-American and Latino communities across Chicago, the ACLU said.

A 1968 Supreme Court ruling has allowed for officers to stop a civilian if they have reasonable suspicion that person has been, is, or is about to be involved in criminal activity. Once the stop has occurred, officers can frisk the individual if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is dangerous or has a weapon.

The ACLU report demonstrates that in Chicago, the stops are disproportionately target people of color and often are done without the justification required by the court.

The ACLU said African Americans represent nearly 72 percent of all the stops in the city of Chicago; aAfrican Americans represent only about 32 percent of the city’s population.

The data analyzed by the ACLU shows that stops most commonly take place in the districts with the largest minority populations. For example, in 2014, police conducted 266 stops per 1,000 people in the Englewood area, which is predominantly African American, while the rate in the predominantly white Lincoln/Foster district was 43 per 1,000 people.

The data also shows that African Americans are more likely to be the target of stops in predominantly white neighborhoods. In Jefferson Park, where the population is just 1 percent African American, African Americans account for a full 15 percent of all stop-and-frisks. In the Near North District, where the African American population is 9.1 percent, African Americans are subjected to more than one-half of all the stops.

The ACLU report concludes that “black citizens are disproportionately subjected to more stops than their white counterparts.

“What this data shows should be a wake-up call for residents of the City,” said Karen Sheley, senior legal counsel and one of the authors of the report.  “CPD is engaging in wholesale stop-and-frisks of African American youth, without any link to criminal activity in most cases.”

“These stops don’t make us safer, they simply drive a wedge further between the police and the public they serve,” Sheley added in a news release.

The ACLU also said the city of Chicago only records information about stops if there is no arrest or charges. Stops that result in arrest are not identifiable and so the rate of innocent persons stopped cannot be ascertained. In New York, which does keep such data, 88 percent of people stopped were innocent.

Also, Chicago records no information about frisks, which prevents the city from computing the rate of frisks resulting in the seizure of contraband. For example, in New York, which records frisk data, 2 percent of the frisks turned up weapons.

“The data makes clear that stop-and-frisk is a problem in Chicago and needs to be reform,” said Grossman. “The city has an opportunity to make modest fixes now, rather than risk further alienation with large swaths of the public.”