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Chicago police west side traffic stops

In this 2023 file photo, an officer conducts a traffic stop in the Austin community area on Chicago’s West Side. Last year, police agencies across Illinois conducted a total of 2.26 million traffic stops, a 12% increase from the previous year, according to a new report from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Most agencies stopped Black and Latino motorists at disproportionately higher rates.

Matt Kiefer

New data shows an increase in police traffic stops across Illinois in 2023

At least four out of every five police agencies in the state reported higher rates of stopping Black and Latino drivers compared to white drivers.

Collectively, police agencies across Illinois made more traffic stops in 2023 than they did the year before, according to a new report from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The report also shows that police continue to stop Black and Latino drivers at disproportionate rates and that dozens of police agencies fail to report traffic stop data, as required by state law.

“It’s really disappointing to see that after all the attention that has been paid to the disparity in traffic stops along racial lines, that we see not just the continuation of those racial disparities, but we see an increase in the number of stops,” said Ed Yohnka, the director of communications and public policy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

There were 2.26 million stops in 2023 — a 12% increase from the 2.01 million stops made in 2022 and the highest annual statewide total since 2019 — according to IDOT’s 2023 Illinois Traffic Stop Study, published this week.

The study also revealed that 18% of police agencies did not submit a full year of stop data or didn’t submit any data at all, an improvement from the 21% who failed to fully comply with the law in 2022.

Among the 997 police agencies in Illinois that were active at the end of last year, 158 didn’t submit traffic stop data to IDOT. That list is largely composed of small downstate police agencies, but it also includes some in the Chicago metro area like those in Dixmoor, North Chicago and Round Lake Heights. North Chicago also failed to report its traffic stop data for 2021 and 2022, records show.

There were 23 agencies, such as the south suburban Harvey Police Department, that submitted some but not all of their stops for 2023, according to the IDOT report. Harvey Police failed to submit its traffic stop data to IDOT for 2021 and 2022, records show.

“It’s been a state law requirement to report these traffic stops and pedestrian stops since 2004. So the infrastructure is there, the precedent is there,” said Loren Jones, director of criminal legal systems at Impact for Equity, a Chicago region public interest law and policy center. “I don’t believe there’s any excuse for departments not to be complying with reporting on the racial demographics.”

Additionally, racial disparities in traffic stops remain prominent among most police agencies in the state. Black drivers were stopped at higher rates than white drivers in 95% of agencies that reported at least 50 traffic stops in 2023, the report noted. The stop rate for Black drivers was at least twice the rate for white drivers in 69% of those agencies. Latino drivers were stopped at higher rates than white drivers in 81% of agencies reporting at least 50 traffic stops last year, the data show.

Not only were Black drivers more likely to be stopped by police, they were also more likely to be stopped multiple times, according to the study.

Among drivers who were stopped by police in 2023, Black drivers had a 36% higher chance than white drivers of being stopped two or three times, the study found.

In addition, Black drivers were also three times more likely than white drivers to be stopped four to 10 times by police last year, the study showed.

The study noted that the findings suggest the possibility, but does not prove, that “racial profiling was a factor in a number of traffic stops.”

Civil rights activists have long argued that the impact of mass traffic stops in Black and Latino communities is deep and long-lasting and the costs of those negative interactions far outweigh any benefit the stops offer in protecting the public.

“Black and brown motorists are disproportionately stopped, we know that the burden falls most heavily on them, which continues to drive this wedge of mistrust between the police and the communities they’re intended to serve,” Yohnka said.

“I think that’s really, in many ways, the saddest piece of it, because it doesn’t do anything to add to public safety,” Yohnka added. “It actually moves us away from the kind of cooperation that communities can have with police because they don’t trust them, and that doesn’t move us closer to the kinds of communities we all want.”

The study also highlighted racial disparities in the reasons police made traffic stops. Among individuals stopped by police in 2023, Black drivers were the least likely to be stopped for moving violations and the most likely to be stopped for licensing or registration issues compared to drivers of other racial or ethnic groups. Civil right advocates say traffic stops for non-moving violations that have little to do with roadway safety — like an expired registration tag — are often used by law enforcement as a pretext to investigate drivers for more serious offenses that have nothing to do with the stop.

“Limiting lower and minor traffic stops from being used as an excuse to investigate for criminal activity is something that needs to be stopped via policy,” said Jones of Impact for Equity. “It’s important to set the precedent that we are not going to rely on these ineffective and harmful stops that target Black and brown people.”

The Chicago Police Department also reported an increase in traffic stops. From 2022 to 2023, traffic stops by the CPD increased by roughly 4.6%, from 511,738 to 535,088, the report showed. Last year’s total is the second-highest figure reported by Chicago Police for any year since 2004, the first year for which data was collected. Chicago Police reported making almost 600,000 traffic stops in 2019.

Black drivers were the subjects of 51% of CPD stops in 2023, down from 57% the prior year. However, the share of Chicago Police stops involving Latino drivers increased from 25% in 2022 to 31% in 2023, based on the study data.

Some agencies patrolling suburban areas reported far higher increases in traffic stops made last year. The Evergreen Park Police Department saw an increase of 41% in total traffic stops from 2022 to 2023. Black drivers were the subjects of 58% of police stops in 2023, down from 60% in 2022. Meanwhile, the percentage of stops involving Latino drivers saw a slight uptick from 7% in 2022 to 8.6% in 2023. In all, Evergreen Park Police made more than 14,000 traffic stops last year in the small southwest suburban village of roughly 19,000 residents.

The Cook County Sheriff reported making 41,435 total traffic stops in 2023, an increase of 63% from 2022 and the agency’s highest total dating back to 2004, the first year of data collection.

The state’s Racial Profiling Prevention and Data Oversight Board, which was created to help improve the collection of traffic stop data and make recommendations for reform, still struggles to maintain steady membership. Since May 2022, the board has met a total of 10 times with two more meetings scheduled for later this year. However, in 4 out of those 10 meetings, the board lacked the eight members it needed to form a quorum.

Long delays in state officials making appointments to the board have prevented that body from meeting consistently since its creation in 2008.

As of July 2, 2024, the 15-person board has four vacancies — two of which are to be appointed by Gov. JB Pritzker, one to be filled by Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and the other by House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savannah — according to the IDOT website.

“Unfortunately, when you have these boards and oversight agencies built into bureaucratic systems, they always take longer than we’d like them to,” said Jones. “But I think it’s important for folks like us, like the media, for advocates to really sort of push on the people that can pull the levers to make sure that those boards are fully equipped and have the resources that they need to get the jobs done.”

If you have a question about traffic stops or your own story to share, please tell us about it.

Look up your local Illinois police traffic stop data through 2022 using this searchable interactive here.

Interested in learning more about traffic stops? Read and listen to our coverage here.

Jessica Alvarado Gamez is a Roy W. Howard Fellow for WBEZ. Follow her @AlvvJess. Amy Qin is a data reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @amyqin12.

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