CITY HALL — The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus denounced a sting operation that used “bait trucks” to try to catch thieves in Englewood, saying it was an “inappropriate use of police resources” and a hearing should be held to get answers.
Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer (6th) called Chicago Police and the Norfolk Southern Railroad on the carpet for the joint operation, which was revealed when video shot by activists went viral this week.
“This bait truck operation is an unacceptable and inappropriate use of police resources,” Sawyer said in a statement. “In a moment where police capacity is clearly under extreme strain, these sort of tactics are the last thing we should be spending manpower and energy on.
“This initiative serves only to undermine already fragile efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the community, and to reinforce counterproductive policies that have contributed to the mass incarceration of Black youth in our city.
Meanwhile, the ACLU denounced what it called a “stunt.”
“Police in Chicago must focus on building trust and better relationships within the communities they serve, not engage in stunts like bait trucks,” said Karen Sheley, the director of the ACLU of Illinois’ Police Practices Project.
“The Chicago Police Department admits that it can’t solve murders and violent crimes because communities of color don’t trust the Chicago Police. These stunts won’t help. Instead, police should focus on reform and improve outreach to communities that have too often been the target of police abuse.”
One of the two viral videos was shot by activist Charles Mckenzie, who posted it on Facebook. Sawyer personally thanked the 29-year-old Englewood activist for filming the sting “so that it could be laid bare for the public and news media to examine.”
“The City Council Committee on Public Safety should swiftly move to convene a hearing so that we can hear from CPD leadership and Norfolk Southern Railroad Police, as well as impacted community members about this matter.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said Chicago Police has “enough issues” going on.
“Railroad theft is serious along the 59th Street corridor,” Lopez said. “I have seen organized efforts by thieves to attack trailers as soon as they roll off the lot. However, I think CPD has enough issues going on in our communities not to have to resort to bait cars. Leave that to the railroad police.”
Norfolk Southern said the joint operation didn’t target kids.
In two videos, one reportedly filmed Thursday at 59th and Carpenter near the Dan Ryan Expy. and another filmed Friday at 56th and Ashland, activists allege Chicago Police officers are pulling over — and then abandoning —semi-trucks filled with merchandise in the under-resourced neighborhood as part of a government operation.
In one video, an outraged man on the street asks officers where he can find video of police doing this in other neighborhoods, and two officers essentially tell him to Google it, saying: “Type in bait truck Chicago.”
One officer also says of the truck: “No one touches it, no one gets locked up.”
The Chicago Police Department declined to answer questions about the trucks or the Chicago Police officer’s “bait truck” comments at the scene. They referred all questions to the Norfolk Southern Railroad Police.
“This was a Norfolk Southern Railroad Police investigation. CPD was there to assist with enforcement,” Officer Patrick McGinnis, a Chicago Police spokesman, said in an email.
In a statement, Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said the trucks were part of a “joint surveillance operation to apprehend the individuals who have been breaking into freight containers at NS rail yards in Southside Chicago.”
However, the rail yards are more than a mile away from where the trucks were parked on city streets.
Mckenzie recorded a 7-minute video on Facebook Live that shows an unmarked white semi-truck pulled over at 59th and Carpenter near the Dan Ryan Expy. A number of officers, including Chicago Police officers, are on the scene, and one teen or man is put in the back of a police van in handcuffs.
The original video has been viewed more than 600,000 times on Facebook and has been reposted by other people on other social media platforms.
“I pulled up, and the young guys, they’re saying, ‘Mckenzie, this a bait truck in the area,’” Mckenzie said.
Mckenzie, who was not on scene when police pulled the truck over, said the truck’s back door was unlocked. Someone pulled the truck open and started pulling merchandise and police “stormed the truck,” he said.
Mckenzie said he believes the truck was filled with boxes of Nike sneakers, but neither Chicago police or the Norfolk Southern spokeswoman would say what was inside the trucks.
Repeatedly in the video, Englewood neighbors on the scene yell: “It’s a setup. It’s a bait truck.”
Two people were handcuffed on the scene, McKenzie said, after they lifted the truck’s back door. Chicago Police declined to comment.
“Why would [they] set up guys in the area? Knowing they can’t get jobs is bad enough,” Mckenzie said.
Terpay said young people were not targeted in their operation, and said the same “surveillance techniques” are used by law enforcement agencies nationwide.
“Contrary to some reports, youth were not targeted — those arrested ranged in age from 21 to 59 — and the unmarked truck, which was locked and unopened with no indication of its contents, was forcibly entered after its safety seal was broken,” Terpay said.
In a second 53-minute Facebook Live video filmed by Martin G. Johnson Friday at 59th and Carpenter, neighbors observe another white truck on the side of the street with two unmarked black SUVs behind it. The SUVs both have their lights flashing.
The white truck pulls away and Johnson follows it in his car. A few minutes later, at about the 6-minute mark, the truck drives by a parked unmarked squad car and the squad car pulls the truck over at 56th and Ashland.
“Uncut, unedited,” Johnson said. “That’s a script. They’re pulling over … all of this is a setup, y’all.”
At about 9 minutes into the video, the uniformed CPD officers pull a man in an orange vest out of the front of the truck, and put him in the back of the unmarked squad car in handcuffs.
The squad car then pulls away from the scene, leaving the unattended white truck at the scene.
Johnson warns a man passing by not to touch the truck: “It’s a bait truck! That’s staged … They’re watching.”
For more than 20 minutes, Johnson and other neighbors continue to warn people not to touch the unattended truck. Johnson tells people he thinks the back of the truck is unlocked.
“They’re not going to go to Mt. Greenwood and do this. They’re going to come to the black communities and do this,” he says. “They’re waiting on somebody to touch this truck right here.”
At 37-1/2 minutes, a black SUV slowly rolls by the truck.
“That’s them trying to see if anyone bites on it,” Johnson says.
At 38-1/2 minutes, Johnson gets out of his car and continues to warn people: “Whatever y’all do, don’t touch this truck right here.”
At about 39-1/2 minutes, activist Jedidiah Brown approaches the truck with his arm stretched out but backs off and yells: “Psych!”
Then a black SUV rolls by and stops Brown.
“Get this out of our neighborhood. We don’t want this in our neighborhood. Stop locking up black kids and trapping them. Move this truck!” he tells the men in the SUV.
Then a uniformed CPD officer approaches from the other direction.
“Why?” the cop asks Brown at about 40-1/2 minutes. Brown says that cops should be focused on real crime in the area. The officer responds: “Alright well [kids] shouldn’t be breaking into trucks.”
Another uniformed officer that does not appear to be a CPD officer says: “Have a good day” and says cops will move the truck “when we’re good and ready.”
“We’re not letting you lock up no more of us,” Brown says.
At about 41 minutes, Brown asks where he can find video of police doing this in other neighborhoods, and one officer says: “Go look at YouTube.”
“Type in bait truck,” the officer says. And the CPD officer echos: “Type in bait truck Chicago.”
The second original video has been viewed more than 167,000 times on Facebook.
“Instead of trying to stop crime, you want to create crime,” Johnson says to the video’s viewers. “This is what y’all think of us. This is baloney.”
Mckenzie said whether the trucks are part of a purposeful setup or not, the presence of the trucks in the neighborhood is troubling. Neighbors are “mad,” he said.
“How’re we supposed to trust CPD, and they’re doing things like this?” he said. “Why would you put a bait truck in the Englewood area when you guys know that they don’t really have anything to lose?”
Following public outcry at the bait truck tactic, Norfolk Southern elaborated on the circumstances surrounding the truck operation and released videos of a man breaking into a truck.
“The truck trailer was not parked next to a basketball court,” Terpay said in a statement. “It was unmarked, it was locked securely, and its contents were invisible to passersby. The suspects saw a parked, unmarked trailer and then proceeded to cut open the safety seal with box cutters, broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside.”
In the video, a man is seen easily clipping a zip tie – not a lock – with a small box cutter.
“Freight theft specifically in this area has been increasing as the volume of rail traffic moving through the city of Chicago also increased,” Terpay continued. “In the recent past, individuals broke into parked freight containers in the Chicago area, stealing a range of consumer goods, to include guns and ammunition in transit. Norfolk Southern has the responsibility to ensure the freight we are transporting is safely delivered and does not pose a risk to the communities in which we operate. This week’s police operation was intended to directly combat such unacceptable thefts.”
Block Club Chicago asked Terpay why these trucks were placed a mile or more away from the railyards, but she did not respond to that question.