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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, dressed in a blue suit jacket, at the microphone during a luncheon.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announces she will not seek reelection during a speech at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano’s Banquets in River North on April 25, 2023.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Kim Foxx wouldn’t prosecute gun cases tied to some minor traffic stops under new plan

The draft policy aims to undercut a dramatic rise in stops that disproportionately target people of color and rarely lead to arrests. “It felt like it was time to do something about it,” said Foxx, who is stepping down as Cook County state’s attorney this year.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is floating a new policy that would direct prosecutors in her office to reject drug and gun charges that stem solely from some routine traffic stops.

In an interview, Foxx said the draft policy aims to undercut a dramatic rise in stops that disproportionately target people of color and rarely lead to arrests.

“It felt like it was time to do something about it,” Foxx said. “And so our office — armed with data, armed with the knowledge that these stops have not significantly or in any way reduced violence in our city — decided that it was time to look at this issue and see if we could model a best practice that we’ve seen in other jurisdictions.”

Under the policy, her office would decline to file drug, gun and theft charges in cases that begin with traffic stops for minor issues, such as having an expired vehicle registration, a missing license plate or nonfunctioning brake lights and headlights.

The decision not to file charges would hinge on whether there was no other probable cause for the stop. The proposal would continue to give prosecutors broad discretion in deciding whether to charge cases.

Foxx said the policy would be “a public safety enhancement effort” that would build trust in law enforcement by decreasing the amount of potentially negative interactions drivers have with police.

However, some of her staff said they were caught off guard by the draft and raised alarms about its implications.

“People are in disbelief,” said one prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is unthinkable.”

Foxx said her office’s current caseload related to traffic stops was “not significant in numbers,” but the source said more than 70% of gun cases are in some way connected to such stops.

The proposal comes in the wake of the police killing of Dexter Reed in March. After Reed was purportedly stopped for not wearing a seat belt, he apparently shot a Chicago police officer and was killed in an ensuing gun fight with four other officers who unleashed a barrage of 96 bullets.

The deadly stop has brought renewed attention to a longstanding police strategy that has relied on routine stops as a crime-fighting tool.

Civil rights activists have for years decried a surge in traffic stops that coincided with the department reaching an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union in 2015 over CPD’s use of so-called stop-and-frisk tactics with pedestrians.

The ACLU again sued the department in 2023, alleging that traffic stops for minor violations were being used as a pretext to search Black and Latino drivers’ cars.

According to a report by Impact for Equity, traffic stops jumped from fewer than 100,000 citywide in 2015 to nearly 600,000 by 2019. Stops dropped during the pandemic years, but had climbed to nearly 400,000 citywide by 2021— with police curbing vehicles most often in Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Citywide, Black drivers are six times more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers. Latino drivers are pulled over at twice the rate of whites. Just two of the city’s 22 police districts — both majority Black areas — accounted for 20% of all traffic stops.

The stops rarely turned up drugs or weapons and seldom led to an arrest, according to the Impact for Equity report. Less than 1% of all stops resulted in officers finding a gun or drugs, and in 2021 just over 2% of stops resulted in an arrest.

Foxx said she has provided a copy of the draft policy to city officials and plans to discuss it with law enforcement officials, including Police Supt. Larry Snelling. She described Snelling as an ally.

“I think we have a partner in the Chicago Police Department who understands what the issues are and doesn’t necessarily need to be forced,” she said of Snelling.

The department released a statement late Thursday saying “we do not comment on draft policies developed by external agencies.”

Snelling has recently spoken out strongly against the department’s reliance on pulling drivers over. Last month, he touted a significant decrease in traffic stops while vowing that those stops will soon be monitored under a federal consent decree mandating sweeping departmental reforms.

In its statement, the department noted that “our officers receive Fourth Amendment training as we emphasize constitutional policing in all of our public safety efforts.”

Foxx previously faced criticism when she raised the threshold for bringing felony charges in retail theft charges. Now, as a lame duck who hasn’t made her next step known, she said her latest policy proposal is an effort to address a systemic problem — not a political maneuver.

“I think it’s a big impact on drivers who feel that they are being targeted because of their race and not their risk to public safety,” she said. “I can’t explain to you the number of people that I’ve talked to just in my personal life who talk about their angst and trepidation about being pulled over by police for things that are not related to public safety.”

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