CHICAGO — The Norfolk Southern Railroad on Friday said it regrets its controversial “Operation Trailer Trap” sting in Englewood and will stop the practice just days after activists’ videos of the “bait truck” operation went viral.
The railroad, which was harshly criticized by neighbors, politicians and viewers of the videos around the world, said the sting “eroded trust between law enforcement and the community.”
According to activist videos posted online, a semi-truck was left on Englewood streets with boxes of shoes inside. Officers waited for people to try to break into the truck, and then arrested them. It was a joint operation between Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Chicago Police Dept., which has already said it will take “a hard look” at the practice going forward.
After initially defending the tactic, Norfolk Southern now says they don’t plan to do it again.
“Norfolk Southern recognizes that, despite the need to safeguard freight in the area, this operation eroded trust between law enforcement and the community,” Herbert Smith, manager of community and legislative affairs, said in a statement. “We sincerely regret that our actions caused further unease, and we don’t plan to use this method in the future.”
Residents argued the “bait truck” created crime and was a waste of resources in an area plagued with gun violence. The American Civil Liberties Union and local politicians also denounced the practice, questioning the use of police resources.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, called for a hearing about the use of bait trucks.
“This bait truck operation is an unacceptable and inappropriate use of police resources,” Sawyer said Wednesday. “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.”
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Norfolk Southern, in its statement Friday, sought to clarify why it launched the operation.
“…. Area residents deserve more context about this operation, which was in direct response to ongoing cargo theft from parked and locked containers and trailers in that area. It must be noted that these break-ins included thefts of guns and ammunition that found their way into the local community.
“At the time, local residents and officials told us we needed to do more to prevent this, and we have responded. Norfolk Southern, in coordination with local, state and federal officials, employs a wide range of preventative and surveillance methods (seen and unseen) to deter crime. We regularly change and improve enforcement tools, but unfortunately thefts continue. Nationally, the FBI estimates more than $27 million of freight is stolen in transit annually. Those costs are passed on directly to consumers.
“We welcome a dialogue with the community, and we already have reached out to local officials to discuss how best to prevent freight theft, improve community relations, and rebuild mutual trust.”
An initial Block Club report on the stings noted the railyards are more than a mile away from where the trucks were parked on city streets.
While Chicago Police Supt. Johnson promised Thursday to take a “hard look” at the stings, he said that the railroad had experienced “a lot” of firearm theft in the railyards.
“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,” Johnson said.
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.
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 said police officers were pulling over — and then abandoning —semi-trucks filled with merchandise in the under-resourced Englewood 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.
“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?”
Following public outcry at the bait truck tactic, Norfolk Southern earlier this week elaborated on the circumstances surrounding the truck operation and released videos of a man breaking into a truck.
“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,” Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said earlier this week.
In the video, a man is seen easily clipping a zip tie – not a lock – with a small box cutter.
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