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Black Drivers Subject To ‘Overwhelming Disparity’ In Police Stops, Use Of Force By Chicago Police, Watchdog Finds

Black drivers have been the recent targets of about 68 percent of police stops and 84 percent of documented uses of force by Chicago Police officers despite comprising less than one-third of the city’s population.

A Chicago Police squad car on June 30, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Black drivers have been the recent targets of about 68 percent of police stops and 84 percent of documented uses of force by Chicago Police officers despite comprising less than one-third of the city’s population, a city watchdog found in a report published Tuesday.  

Police responded by highlighting a number of tactics they’ve introduced to close the gap since the report’s findings were gathered, including expanding and revamping use-of-force training for officers. 

The 74-page report released by the office of Interim Inspector General William Marback found an “overwhelming disparity” in the number of Black residents who were pulled over for investigatory traffic stops, and an even sharper skew in the number of Black drivers who were subjected to force like “takedowns” or the use of batons or tasers. 

Analysts in the inspector general’s office culled the data from nearly 340,00 incident reports filed by police officers between October 2017 and February 2020, encompassing only the first several months after the Chicago Police Department came under the oversight of a federal consent decree.  

“Disparities manifest and compound across multiple phases of use-of-force incidents,” the report reads. “At all phases where clear evidence of disparities exists, Black people are the most consistently disadvantaged racial/ethnic group.”  

Black people were overrepresented in traffic stops relative to their share of the population in all 23 of the city’s police districts — especially in districts with relatively low crime and those with relatively few Black residents. For example, Black drivers comprised about 73.5 percent of police stops in the city’s Near North District, whose population is less than 8 percent Black, the report found.  

Black drivers were also more than three times more likely than white motorists to have their cars searched during stops, and 1.6 times more likely to be searched than all non-Black drivers. The report found “no clear trend in one direction or the other as to whether Hispanic people across Districts were over- or underrepresented in stops.”  

The disparity also carried over into the proportion of traffic stops that involved the use of force, showing a “compounding disadvantage to Black people” in encounters with police, according to the report.  

Moreover, the report found that while uses of force overwhelmingly skewed toward “less lethal” maneuvers like “takedowns” and “manual strikes” with fists, palms or batons, the rare instances in which officers used tasers or guns were overwhelmingly against Black drivers. Of 1,494 documented uses of “manual striking force,” 1,170 were against Black people. Black drivers also accounted for 433 of 534 total uses of “less-lethal weapon force” and 46 of total uses of “lethal force” from guns.  

“Hispanic people were more likely to face a higher-level force option than non-Hispanic people,” the report added. “Meanwhile, white people were almost never more likely to face a higher-level use of force than non-White people.”  

The authors of the report did not end their findings with any specific recommendations, and they noted that the publication does not edge into officer bias or any other individual or department-wide reason for the skewed racial breakdown in stops.  

“This data, taken on its own, cannot answer the question of why the disparities exist where they do,” the report reads. “Establishing a rigorous understanding of cause would require different types of testing, for which this report can serve as a foundation.”  

Instead of offering fixes, the report lands on a series of questions its authors hope the data raises, including how often officer de-escalation efforts successfully avoid uses of force, and how police use force differently with people experiencing mental health episodes.  

CPD points to training, new policies  

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown delivered a six-page response to the inspector’s findings on Feb. 7 writing that the department “has made great strides in Use of Force and Procedural Justice training” since early 2020. Brown’s response was included at the end of the report on Tuesday.  

The department has “revised numerous policies including, but not limited to, the entire 

Use of Force suite of orders,” Brown wrote, adding that the department has “achieved preliminary compliance” on all paragraphs related to use of force in the federal consent decree. He did not specify the new or added policies.  

Brown also touted a tenfold increase in use-of-force training mandated for Chicago police officers since 2017. At the time, each officer received a “four-hour in-person course on the new use of force policy that went into effect that year,” he wrote. The training program grew each subsequent year leading up to 2021, when 40 hours of courses were mandated including on “procedural justice, bias, and use of force.”  

Brown also cautioned against drawing too many conclusions from the report, saying it did not take into account unique circumstances behind each drop.  

“While the Department appreciates the analysis presented in this Report and hopes to use it to inform future training opportunities, it is a cursory review of data related to uses of force during investigatory stops and traffic stops,” the superintendent wrote. “A further analysis of the facts and circumstances around these stops and uses of force would be necessary to fully understand the complexities of the reported disparities.”  

The inspector’s office has repeatedly found instances of racial disparities in Chicago Police Department actions and systems, including its widely discredited gang database — which the department has vowed to replace — as well as its search warrant executions and hiring practices.  

Related: Aldermen put CPD on defensive over gang database overhaul: ‘This is a wheel we need to destroy’  

The report was released by the Public Safety section of the inspector general’s office, which has not had a permanent leader since Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg stepped down in November to pursue an appointment as the city’s next permanent inspector general. The city has not had a City Council-appointed inspector general since Joseph Ferguson stepped down in October, and a search committee appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to find new candidates late last year has reported no updates on the search. 

Get more in-depth, daily coverage of Chicago politics at The Daily Line.