The ACLU of Illinois issued a report in March of 2015 on the Chicago Police Department’s practice of stop and frisks in Chicago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though no less infuriating, the data gathered by the ACLU of Illinois shows that an alarming amount of the stop and frisks performed by Chicago Police Officers are targeted against minority populations, and particularly African Americans: Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. Hispanic Chicagoans were subjected to 17% of all stops, and constitute 29% of the city’s population.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) instructs officers to stop a person only if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. If the police reasonably believe a person is armed and dangerous, they may then conduct a frisk, a quick pat-down of the person’s outer clothing.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy claimed in response to the ACLU’s report that the Chicago Police Department conducts stops based on crime data and citizen reporting, not based on the demographics of the population. In fact, McCarthy has defended the practice, stating that “[e]verything will improve if we just get out of the cars and put our hands on people.”
Yet McCarthy’s claim cannot be substantiated because the Chicago Police Department, as determined by the ACLU of Illinois, does not maintain effective record keeping on the stop and frisks performed by their own department. When conducting a stop and frisk, officers are not required to fill out a “contact card” and are not required to justify the reasonable suspicion associated with the stop, or record whether the stop and frisk was associated with an arrest or the recovery of weapons or drugs.
Unconstitutional stop and frisks and ineffective record keeping damages the relationship between police and minority communities. Indeed, more than just legal definitions and statistics are the stories that accompany the disproportionate use of stop and frisk practices in Chicago. Those that endure the practice report anger over its misuse. As one man stated, “[t]hey don’t have to throw a numerous amount of young men against a fence to find out their names.”
A link to filing a complaint against the stop and frisk practice may be found here.