ENGLEWOOD — Viral videos showing police using a “bait truck” filled with shoes to arrest people in Englewood has sparked outrage among residents and politicians alike, with activists and politicians questioning the use of police resources amid a violent summer.
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 American Civil Liberties Union denounced the last week’s bait truck sting, which were a joint investigation between the Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Chicago Police Department.
The railroad, which has rail yards in the area, said the sting targeted thieves who steal merchandise passing through Chicago. The trucks, however, were parked at least a mile from the nearest rail yard when activists spotted them and videotaped the operation.
David C. King, 36, was arrested as part of “Operation Trailer Trap” on August 2, the Tribune reported. King, who is deaf, told police via sign language that he entered the trailer hoping food was inside, the paper reports.
The ACLU denounced it as 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.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus called for a hearing.
Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer (6th) called Chicago Police and the Norfolk Southern Railroad on the carpet for the joint operation.
“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.
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.”
Mayoral challenger Lori Lightfoot, the former head of the Chicago Police Board, also criticized the operation.
“Especially after a weekend with seventy shootings and zero arrests, news of this bait truck operation is an appalling display of misplaced priorities and a step backwards on the path to trust and legitimacy,” she said.
“Video footage shows officers antagonizing Chicagoans they are sworn to serve and protect, and creating conflict when their responsibility is to promote public safety. We’ve got to get to the bottom of how this happened and make sure these tactics are never used again.”
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.”
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.
“The truck trailer was not parked next to a basketball court,” Terpay said in a follow-up statement as criticism mounted. “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.”
In one video of a bait truck filmed by activist Martin G. Johnson, he warns neighbors to stay away from the truck and criticizes officers on scene.
“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?”