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Chicago police car in front Near North police district station

A Chicago police vehicle drives by the Near North District police station in this file photo from Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. Two civil rights groups are calling for Chicago Police to rethink its use of traffic stops after issuing a report showing the department made 530,000 stops in 2023, a 5% increase from the previous year.

Jessica Alvarado Gamez

Chicago Police traffic stops increase for the third year in a row, a new report shows

A new report from two civil rights groups shows the Chicago Police Department made more traffic stops in 2023 than it did the previous year and that those stops were increasingly made for nonmoving violations. The report also highlights the continuation of wide racial disparities in the number of stops of Black and Latino motorists compared to their white counterparts.

The report, released Thursday by Impact for Equity and the Free2Move Coalition, shows CPD traffic stops grew from more than 511,000 in 2022 to 530,000 in 2023 — an increase of 5%. It marked the third year in a row CPD traffic stops have increased.

The report also highlighted the growing percentage in licensing and registration violation stops — from 37% of all stops in 2022 to 44% of all stops in 2023. The vast majority of those stops were for improper or expired registration plates or tags, the report showed.

Meanwhile, stops for moving violations — which include a range of offenses like not stopping at a stop sign, speeding and reckless driving — decreased from 31% of all stops in 2022 to 27% of the stops made in 2023. Nearly 4% of all stops resulted in a citation, 2% resulted in an arrest and less than one percent resulted in any contraband recovery, according to the report.

Data used for the report were obtained through a public records request to Chicago Police for information the department reports to the state, as required by state law. Armed with the findings of the analysis, the groups question CPD’s use of traffic stops, arguing that police stop motorists for minor violations as a pretext to search for weapons or to investigate them for other serious offenses.

“The statistics speak volumes: less than 0.7% of traffic stops are for speeding, yet the pretextual stops continue,” said W. Robert Schultz III, campaign organizer at Active Transportation Alliance, in a press release regarding the report. “It’s clear that we need a shift in focus towards truly effective measures for traffic safety and redirect resources towards strategies that address real dangers on our streets.”

Furthermore, the trend of racial inequalities in traffic stops persisted in 2023, notably affecting Black and Latino drivers who were disproportionately stopped and arrested in comparison to white drivers.

Police districts 11 and 10 — home to neighborhoods such as Little Village, North Lawndale, Garfield Park and Humboldt Park — ranked first and second, respectively, in traffic stops during 2023, the report showed. Those two districts accounted for 20% of all CPD traffic stops last year but less than 7% of the city’s population. And 96% of the residents there are Black or Latino, the report noted.

However, District 19 — home to the majority-white Lincoln Park, Lakeview and North Center communities— had about one-fourth the number of stops as District 11, despite having nearly three times the number of residents.

“People and communities of color in the city who are being hit hard by stops, they’re not being made to feel safer,” said Amy Thompson, staff counsel for Impact for Equity’s criminal legal system team.

“Treating a person who is just trying to get to work or go to school or go to the grocery store, as if they’re just a target for another pretextual stop, it won’t lead to them feeling as if they’re a true partner in public safety with the city,” Thompson said.

When he was interviewing for the job as Chicago’s top cop, Superintendent Larry Snelling said he was concerned about the number of traffic stops. And the new report shows a decline in traffic stops during Snelling’s first three months on the job.

According to the report, there were nearly 119,000 stops in the fourth quarter of 2023 — a 4% decrease from the prior quarter and an 11% decrease from the fourth quarter in 2022. However, that fourth quarter total was still higher than the number of stops CPD made in all of 2015, the report noted. In addition, Black and Latino drivers were still disproportionately affected, with Black motorists being the subjects in 47% of fourth-quarter stops and Latinos 34%, compared to just 14% for white motorists.

In response to WBEZ’s request for comment about the report’s findings and for an interview with Snelling, Chicago Police provided the following statement.

“Fair and constitutional policing is the foundation of the Chicago Police Department’s efforts to strengthen public safety and trust across the city. Officers only conduct traffic stops when they have probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime, including but not limited to traffic violations, has been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed,” a CPD spokesperson wrote in an email.

The department has issued the same statement, word-for-word, to WBEZ on three previous occasions when questioned about its use of traffic stops.

The civil rights groups are urging CPD to work with the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability to rethink the ways traffic stops are conducted.

“The superintendent has said that he’s open to thinking differently about a traffic stop strategy. And we need to hold him accountable for that,” Thompson said.

“So when you situate what’s going on here and 2023 in the broader Chicago context, it begs the question of what are we waiting for?” Thompson continued. “What more evidence do we need to show how ineffective and how harmful the practice is. The change needs to happen, and it’s so clear.”

Read the full Chicago 2023 Traffic Stops Data Report here.

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

Jessica Alvarado Gamez is a Roy W. Howard Fellow for WBEZ. Follow her @AlvvJess.

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