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'Stop-and-Frisk' Alive and Well in Chicago, South Side Residents Say

By Erica Demarest | August 15, 2013 6:46am | Updated on August 15, 2013 7:10am
 Johnie Williams, 53, says Chicago police search young black men all the time — and often for good reason.
Johnie Williams, 53, says Chicago police search young black men all the time — and often for good reason.
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

ENGLEWOOD — As the New York Post has pointed out several times this week, Chicago does not have a "stop-and-frisk" program such as the one struck down by a New York judge Monday.

Some residents, however, say the Chicago Police Department stops — and frisks — plenty of people they suspect of wrongdoing. And the Police Department says so, too.

"That stuff has been going for forever," Johnie Williams, a 53-year-old contractor who has lived in Englewood all his life, said of police patdowns. "I think we have to gauge what the cops have to deal with — especially in this area. For the most part, it's semi-justified. You never know who's going to pop up with what."

As Chicago's Police Supt. Garry McCarthy pointed out during a Tuesday news conference, all police departments have their own ways of handling searches, and despite criticism from some New York police, the Chicago Police Department's policy is similar to the Big Apple's.

"This thing has been kind of confused," McCarthy said Tuesday. "Stop-and-frisk is a tactic that every department in the country uses because we have to stop people when we're going to arrest them. We have to frisk them if we're in fear of a weapon."

The Chicago Police Department instructs its officers to conduct "investigatory street stops"  when they have "reasonable suspicion that the person is committing, is about to commit, or has committed a crime" — which is the same obligation NYPD officers had under the stop-and-frisk program. While New York officials insisted cops did have reasonable suspicion when they searched people, an analysis showed that 88 percent of those stopped and searched were released without charges, and most were minorities.

Williams said he sees Chicago police officers stopping young black men "all the time," especially after a shooting in the area. He said he was stopped more often when he was younger, but not anymore.

"The young guys are the ones doing all the dirt," he said. "I don't support harassment, but it's high time we do something about the guns and violence."

Englewood resident Christopher Gordon, 24, said he is stopped by police as many as four times a day. They usually just ask him what he is doing out, but sometimes will search him, he said.

"[They're] just pulling up trying to see if I got something on me, just telling me to get off the streets," Gordon said. "They're looking for guns and drugs. ... They say I shouldn't be out here."

McCarthy said the police searches are "within the bounds of the law" and that if the department is going to continue to get guns off the streets, they need to search suspicious people.

"I'm not sure what happened in New York, and where it came off the rails, or if it did come off the rails," McCarthy said. "But right now, we have no plans to change the way we do it. ... It's all in the bounds of the Constitution. We don't racially profile."

So, as New York media points to Chicago's lack of stop-and-frisk as a reason that last year was so violent, residents of one of the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods would disagree.

But some want to see an end to the practice here as well.

"They do it all the time," said Dennis Montgomery, 26, of Englewood. "They just hop out [of their SUVs], tell us to get on the car and search us for no reason."

Montgomery said searches are more frequent when he's in a group.

"It shouldn't be legal. There should be a reason. Even if you have something on you, they should give you a reason to stop you," he said.

Another Englewood resident, who declined to give her name, said it's rare for women to be stopped by police, but she sees people in her neighborhood and Back of the Yards stopped often.

She said she's seen police ask people to come up to the car and show identification. Sometimes they'll have a nice chat. Sometimes they'll make people put their hands on the car and get searched.

"It's not fair, but it is what it is," she said. "It's something that we've grown accustomed to."