DOWNTOWN – Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said the department is taking “a hard look” at its use of “bait trucks” after Englewood activists recorded officers planting an easy-to-access truck filled with goods in the low-income neighborhood before arresting men for breaking into it.
The bait truck sting, which was part of a joint investigation between the Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Chicago Police Department, was posted to Facebook where the videos went viral, leading elected officials and prominent civil rights groups to slam the practice.
“Norfolk Railroad has been having a lot of problems with … theft of their property, whether it be their trains or their trucks,” Supt. Johnson said during a Thursday news conference. “At the end of the day, just because it’s out there and it’s not yours, that doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to take it.”
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.
“We will take a hard look to see if there’s something we can do better,” Johnson said. “The point is, they’ve been experiencing a lot of theft of firearms over there. So we have a responsibility to keep these firearms off the street and out of the hands of the wrong people.”
Related: Black Caucus Chairman Calls For Hearings Following ‘Bait Truck’ Police Sting
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.
Local residents playing basketball near 59th and Carpenter Thursday afternoon said they believe King, who was arrested in the sting, was homeless. One man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he’s seen similar trucks parked in the area in the past, but had never seen police on the scene until this week.
“These officers should be focused on finding shooters, missing girls, fraud,” the man said. “You’re trying to make people do a crime? Y’all put time in to do this? That was a wasted sting.”
Charles Mckenzie, the 29-year-old Englewood activist who recorded one of the viral videos, agreed.
“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?”
Johnson reiterated what Norfolk Southern said – that theft of guns and ammunition from the railyards on the South Side is a major issue, and that not everyone has a problem with this sort of policing tactic.
“We’re going to take a hard look at it,” Johnson said. “But now conversely I’ve had a lot of people say to me, ‘Superintendent they shouldn’t be out there doing what they were doing.’ So it depends which side of that coin you want to fall on. But our goal, we’ve been working hard the last two years to repair relationships. So again, we’ll take a hard look and see if it can somehow be done a little bit better.”
Ald. Roderick T. Sawyer (6th) called Chicago Police and the Norfolk Southern Railroad on the carpet for the joint operation, and wants a City Council hearing into the use of such tactics.
“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.
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