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Chicago Police Street Stops Decrease Dramatically Amid Sinking Morale

By Mark Konkol | January 13, 2016 11:03am | Updated on January 15, 2016 8:22am
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Flickr/Erin Nekervis

CHICAGO — Police officers are making drastically fewer investigative stops and confiscating fewer guns as murders and shootings have increased so far this year, DNAinfo Chicago has learned.

So far this year, the number of so-called investigative stop reports — formerly known as “contact cards” — has decreased by about 80 percent compared to the same time period last year, police sources told DNAinfo Chicago.

There also been a 37 percent decline in gun arrests and a 35 percent decrease in gun confiscations compared to last year, according to police data. 

Meanwhile, there have been 72 more shootings (a 218 percent increase) and 10 more murders (a 125 percent spike) than during the same time period last year, according to police data.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said rank-and-file officers had gone “fetal” out of fear that one wrong move might put them in the headlines … or worse.

"They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don't want to be a news story themselves, they don't want their career ended early, and it's having an impact," the Washington Post quoted Emanuel as saying.

Now that the Police Department is the focus of an U.S. Justice Department investigation in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting, sources tell DNAinfo Chicago that fear of getting caught up in a bad situation while making proactive investigative stops has contributed to less aggressive policing.

Unlike the “Ferguson Effect” — a term coined to describe spikes in violent crime due to perceived hesitancy among police officers to aggressively fight crime because of increased scrutiny of law enforcement — and the deliberate policing “slowdown” Baltimore’s mayor accused her town’s officers of participating in after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the statistics reflect a situation specific to Chicago.

Law enforcement experts say the statistics suggest Chicago officers have started to do the “bare minimum” in reaction to the current working environment — a department under the federal microscope and a new requirement to fill out a two-page report complete with their names and badge numbers for every person they stop and frisk.

“Maybe they’re doing their job by some definition, but it’s the bare minimum. The data shows they’re not engaging in proactive policing,” a source who asked not to be identified told DNAinfo Chicago.

“I wouldn’t accuse them of being willfully irresponsible. But in this environment why would an officer make a stop unless they see a gun or witness a shooting? It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Why have officers made fewer investigative stops?

"I'll leave that up to the common sense of the citizens as to why things are not as productive ... investigative stop wise," Fraternal Order of Police president Dean Angelo said.

"I've been out to roll calls, and so have our board of directors ... and what we're hearing is that officers think that the FOP is the only group of people who have their back. ... I've never seen things like this in my 35 years. ... I've never seen morale this bad in my career."

Angelo also said the new investigative stop reports, which were part of an agreement with the ACLU that changed how Chicago police keep track of street stops, is cumbersome, time-consuming and has a review process and discipline for filing reports improperly. Interim Supt. John Escalante agreed that the ACLU policy change could have an impact, but said he expects things to pick up after officers receive more training.

City Hall sources say the statistics have Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attention.

In the last few weeks, the mayor has started to make more frequent appearances at police roll calls to talk with officers.


Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins did not respond to questions related to those roll call visits and whether the mayor is concerned about the dramatic drop in investigative stop reports as violent crime spikes in the city.

When asked directly about the decrease Wednesday, Emanuel said officers he's spoken to are "determined to see their job through," but acknowledged "they are operating, obviously, with greater public scrutiny that you can't ignore." 

Escalante said the reason for the decrease is twofold: a new state law that requires officers to have reasonable suspicion before pulling someone over, and the Police Department's new ACLU-approved policy, which calls for officers to document nearly all investigative stops, which are then to be reviewed by an outside agency.

The law and policies are new to officers — the law went into effect Jan. 1 — and Escalante said officers just haven't had time to adapt to the new rules of when someone can be pulled over and what must be documented. He said training for the new policy is ongoing.

"It's been a little confusing to officers used to the old training," he said at a news conference Wednesday. "I think we'll see things start to pick up again soon."

Angelo, the police union boss, said that while roll call visits by the mayor and Escalante have received some positive response from police officers, there remains concern that rank-and-file officers are facing discipline for things out of their control, specifically defective dashboard cameras.

"It's good that people get out there like that. I know the superintendent has been out in an attempt to assure he has got people's best interest at heart," Angelo said.

"But then an inspector comes out and writes people up because the car they're in has a defective camera. The hammer is coming down, and it always hits the lowest rung on the ladder and appears punitive and arbitrary. ...  We're looking for someone to address these concerns. Police officers don't want to be the next headline. They have families they want to go home to."


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