CHICAGO (Sept. 27, 2023) — The Investigative Project on Race and Equity and WBEZ Chicago are launching Profiled: The State of Traffic Stops in Illinois, a three-part investigation of the convergence of race and traffic stops in Illinois.
In 2003, Illinois passed a measure sponsored by then-state Sen. Barack Obama to gather details of every police stop in the state, including the driver’s race or ethnicity. On the 20th anniversary of that law’s passage, the Investigative Project and WBEZ assembled and analyzed 42.5 million records of traffic stop data that were collected under the law, covering more than 1,000 jurisdictions across Illinois.
What we found: The percentage of Black drivers stopped by police continues to rise, unabated. A record number of law enforcement agencies are ignoring the law. And the state seems incapable of reversing the tide.
“This investigation is the kind of data-driven reporting, vivid storytelling and journalistic partnership that the Investigative Project will be known for,” said Laura Washington, a founding board member of the Investigative Project.
“As an Illinois state senator in 2003, Barack Obama sponsored the Traffic Stop Statistical Study Act to assess if drivers of color were treated equitably on our state’s roads,” Washington said. “Our analysis and reporting demonstrates that Illinois and the Chicago area are still grappling with the consequences of systemic racism.”
“It’s clear from our reporting that the state of Illinois takes a limited approach to analyzing traffic stops,” said WBEZ Editor Matt Kiefer. “We built this database to fill an information gap and help the public understand this important issue.”
The report shows that:
In the last two years, stops involving Black drivers have topped 30% of all traffic stops statewide, up from 17.5% in 2004, the first year data was released.
In Chicago, where Black, white and Latino populations* are roughly equal, traffic stops of Black drivers in 2022 were more than four times that of whites and more than twice that of Latinos.
Beyond Chicago’s city limits, traffic stops also disproportionately affect Black drivers. Last year traffic stops involving Black drivers made up 21% of all traffic stops throughout Illinois (excluding Chicago).
“The Investigative Project exposes the corrosive practices that separate us, practices that policymakers and the public must confront. We are excited to work with WBEZ to bring our first project to light,” Washington added.
Alden Loury, WBEZ’s data projects editor, said the investigation of race and traffic stops is the kind of fact-based journalism and immersive reporting Chicagoans seek out. “These stories have the power to spark change,” Loury said. “Before joining the station’s data desk, I oversaw the news station’s coverage of race, class and communities. I know our listeners tune in not just to hear about inequity but to hear what’s being done to correct it. Enterprise reporting like this exposes the depths of our most challenging problems and provides us opportunities to find solutions.”
The Investigative Project on Race and Equity provides journalists mentorship and specialized training in data-driven reporting. It also collaborates with news organizations to uncover systemic racism through compelling stories that inform public discourse. Other Chicago newsrooms do aspects of this work, but the Investigative Project has a key difference, said Project Director Angela Caputo.
“What sets us apart is our unrivaled, highly experienced network of veteran reporters, editors and educators,” Caputo said. “Our network supports journalists with hard-won know-how and works with news organizations to share stories that hold our elected leaders accountable.”
The report will be available starting Sept. 27, 2023 on WBEZ-FM and wbez.org, Chicago’s NPR news source. WBEZ and the Investigative Project will open source the traffic stops database on the Big Local News platform, based out of Stanford University, by the end of the year. To discuss potential collaborations using the traffic stops database, reach out to Matt Kiefer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Source: According to 2020 Census data, Chicago’s adult population (individuals 18 years or older) is 34.6% white, 28.1% Black and 27.2% Latino.
About the Investigative Project on Race and Equity
The Investigative Project on Race and Equity trains journalists in data-driven reporting and collaborates with news organizations to uncover systemic racism through compelling stories that inform public discourse and drive change. For more information go to https://www.raceandequityproject.org/.
About WBEZ Chicago
WBEZ is home to local and national news programming as well as a growing portfolio of popular podcasts. WBEZ serves the community with fact-based, objective news and information, and its award-winning journalists ask tough questions, dig deep for answers and expose truths that spark change and foster understanding. WBEZ is supported by nearly 86,000 members, hundreds of corporate sponsors and major donors. In 2022, WBEZ received more than 20 awards for its journalism, including two prestigious National Edward R. Murrow Awards. For more information go to https://www.wbez.org/.