CPD Doubles Down on Claim That Heavy Bike Enforcement Is a Fair Anti-Violence Strategy

Glen Brooks on "Chicago Tonight."
Glen Brooks on "Chicago Tonight."

Last night WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” show hosted a discussion of tensions between the Chicago Police Department and neighborhoods of color in the wake of officer-involved shootings, recent protests shutting down major highways, and police using a “bait truck” to entrap Englewood residents, looking at whether it’s possible to repair CPD community relations. Of the guests was Glen Brooks, the department’s director of public engagement.

In June, in response to investigations by the Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski that uncovered massive discrepancies in the number of bike tickets written in some Black and Latino areas versus majority-white neighborhoods, Brooks talked about the issue at a Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting. He said that a CPD analysis of 3,300-plus sidewalk riding tickets indicated that the exponentially higher number of citations written in some communities of color was due to police using traffic enforcement as a violence-prevention strategy, because the stops facilitate searches for illegal guns and other contraband. Brooks said that he doesn’t feel this practice qualifies as racial profiling, and indicated that the CPD doesn’t plan to stop it.

“Chicago Tonight” host Carol Marin asked Brooks about the bike ticketing issue, which she said seems to be a factor in worsening CPD community relations. Brooks reiterated that he doesn’t believe that the department’s enforcement policy, in which bike laws are heavily enforced in some communities of color, but not in majority-white ones, is unfair. (For example, Wisniewski found that 397 bike tickets were written in North Lawndale last year, while only five were issued in Lincoln Park.) On the contrary, he argued, it’s a sensible approach to fighting violent crime.

A cyclist rides on Independence Boulevard in North Lawndale, which saw about 80 times as many bike tickets last year as Lincoln Park. Photo: John Greenfield

Brooks was open about the fact the CPD is more likely to ticket for both bike and motor vehicle infractions in communities of color than white neighborhoods. “When we have communities experiencing levels of violence, we do increase traffic enforcement,” he said. “Part of that includes bicycles.”

But, once again, he argued that there’s nothing inequitable about that. “It isn’t a matter of fact that we are targeting people of color for bicycling,” he said. “We are trying to do everything humanly possible to curtail the violence.”

Brooks went to so far as to assert that zero-tolerance bike enforcement is justified in Black and Brown areas because the victims of violence, as well as the perpetrators, are sometimes people on bikes. “Just this weekend we had someone who was shot who was on a bicycle, and we had the offenders reported to us leaving on bicycles. So this isn’t a matter of targeting bicyclists, this is a matter of targeting violence.”

Setting aside the question of whether it’s fair that people riding bikes in North Lawndale were about 80 times more likely to be issued a ticket than their Lincoln Park counterparts for the same behavior, criminal justice reform and civil rights advocates have argued that the CPD’s cycling enforcement practices are counterproductive to reducing violence. “When people feel like they’re being targeted in their neighborhoods, it leaves a negative impression of the police,” ACLU of Illinois’ Karen Sheley recently told me. “When you’re [generally] law-abiding, it’s really offensive to be stopped for minor ticky-tacky violations and basically be treated like a criminal.”

Sheley noted that the 2017 U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the CPD, as well as social science researchers, have reported this kind of “broken windows”-style enforcement has had a negative effect on the department’s community relations and crime solving abilities, because it makes residents less likely to share information with officers.

Watch the entire “Chicago Tonight” segment here. The bike discussion begins at 4:30.

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  • DoctorTecate

    Good work Uncle Tom.

  • CIAC

    ” and police using a ‘bait truck’ to entrap Englewood residents,”

    I don’t think that phrase is anywhere remotely close to an accurate reflection of reality. The bait truck was used to target specific residents, not everyone in the community. There had been thefts at a rail yard. They were attempting to catch these perpetrators. I don’t view it as an “entrapment” at all. In fact, to come to that conclusion one needs to believe that the people stealing from the truck just can’t help themselves from opening a closed vehicle (a reminder that the truck was closed and I believe also locked) and stealing items from it. Anybody who believes that someone who opens a closed truck and steals things from this truck is a victim who is only doing this because they are being “egged-on” by the existence of the truck is….profoundly incorrect. The vast majority of people in this community, and all communities, are not going to steal from a truck like this. In my opinion, it shows a lack of respect (and other things really too) toward the community to think that this somehow should be a trigger that would cause otherwise law-abiding people in the neighborhood to engage in behavior they otherwise wouldn’t. Anybody who would steal from a truck like this is no doubt going to steal and do other criminal acts in other contexts. I have absolutely no problem with this police tactic even if it was used much more frequently. The reaction to this truck has really depressed me. There’s a need for police and criminal justice reform so that enforcement and penalties are less punitive in many instances but we keep seeing that those who are the most vocal advocates for reforms in that direction have too little sense of where to stop. That’s a major reason why so little has gotten done in the last few years despite much greater sentiment among the public toward criminal justice reform.

    As for the issue of bicycle ticketing, I really tend to believe that it’s generally not wise to enforce something simply as a pretext for something else, which the police seem to be admitting to. As I’ve said before, the no bikes on sidewalks ordinance was really meant for areas that have a significant number of pedestrians. The south and west sides aren’t examples of this. I think that’s why there’s no statewide law about bicyclists riding on sidewalks and why most suburbs allow it (I rode on sidewalks all the time when I was growing up in the suburbs). So it really should be enforced less on the south and west sides than other areas. If the south and west sides were a separate city this would almost surely not be a violation at all. I’m sure the police sometimes catches other things as a result of this but I doubt that comes close to outweighing the negative resentment that results from targeting people for behavior that’s completely harmless, even if it technically is against the law. I know I’d certainly be annoyed if police harassed me over ordinance or law violations that clearly weren’t meant for the situation on hand. But I don’t think this is really a racial issue as much as it’s just people naively thinking that strong enforcement of every possible means doesn’t have counter-intuitive effects. If there were severe crime problems in white neighborhoods this would be going on too.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Wow. I’m not gonna dance around the issue and just come out and say I sure hope the person behind this comment is black. Because it doesn’t matter how objectionable you find a black person, there’s certain phrases that are completely out of pocket for a non-black person to use to describe them. And that’s one.

    This black guy.

  • ohsweetnothing

    The bait trucks were locked??

  • ohsweetnothing

    1. I’d be interested in the bike infrastructure comparison between communities like North Lawndale vs Lincoln Park. Are people really riding on the sidewalk more often? If so, why?

    2. Even his logic doesn’t explain why they’re actually bothering to TICKET people. Like even if you buy the violence prevention argument (I don’t), we all know cops use a wide amount of discretion with traffic violations…if you don’t find anything, just let them go. Jesus.

    3. I can’t shake the feeling that these stories aren’t acknowledging that a lot of calls for increased enforcement are coming from the community itself. They’re calling CPD, attending CAPS meetings, and pressuring their Aldermen. I know this from first hand experience and knowing this when I read stories like this make me wonder WHO is writing them from what perspective (youngish, white progressive) and what blind spots they may have about the communities they’re reporting on.

    To be clear, I don’t think it’s the right nor best way to address community violence either and I don’t agree with the residents who are asking for increased enforcement…but they exist and are a part of the story as well.

  • Tooscrapps

    Pretty good recap here: https://www.vox.com/2018/8/7/17661240/video-chicago-police-bait-truck-nike-norfolk-southern-louboutins-englewood-black-neighborhood

    This is not the same as putting a wad of cash in the window of a car. This tactic was used to target individuals who had been burglarizing semis.

  • Tooscrapps

    Right? Ticket people who are endangering others on the sidewalk. Not some guy riding a bike down an empty sidewalk. Police would probably would target him for not having a light if he was in the street.

  • rohmen

    Yeah, the Vox article suggests they were at least “safety-sealed” and a box cutter was used to cut the seal, so it took a pretty affirmative act beyond even just opening the back to see what was inside.

    IMHO, I think it matters where they’re placing the trucks. Are they
    selecting areas cargo trucks are routinely parked as part of the
    Railroad’s normal operations, or are they selecting areas near the yards where a truck would be out of the norm, but the area is otherwise high crime?

    If it’s the latter, I think a much better argument exists that this is simply creating crime. If it’s the former, and these are legit spots the Railroad uses in its scope of operations (and has experienced theft), it seems like a tougher argument. In either event, I seriously doubt a bait truck is going to be viewed as entrapment in the legal defense sense of the term in a court.

  • rohmen

    Take this story with a grain of salt, and the traffic enforcement is clearly (and even admitted by CPD apparently) a pretextual reason to stop people on bikes to look for other crimes, but I’m a white guy that rides daily through Austin to commute back and forth from OP. There’s a bad stretch of road on the marked bike route under an overpass where a take the sidewalk regularly. I was stopped by CPD and threatened with a ticket for riding on the sidewalk versus taking what to me is a dangerous stretch of street.

    I had two takeaways from my own experience: (1) it’s the only time I’ve ever been stopped for riding on a sidewalk after riding for years in this city (I admittedly don’t do it much, but have in other areas where the road is dangerous); and (2) I was stopped but not actually ticketed, and I think I would have been ticketed if I was black. That’s pretty messed up in my mind.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Yeah, I know it’s an anecdote, but it def gets to both my first and second points.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Just zip ties.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Sorry for the late response but, other issues aside, that phrase does qualify as an ad hominem (personal) attack, out of line with our comment moderation policies, so I will delete it in the future. https://chi.streetsblog.org/about/comment-moderation-policy/

    Some discussion of the term: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93059468

  • johnaustingreenfield

    For a different perspective on the bike ticketing issue, here’s Equiticity leader Oboi Reed’s detailed Twitter thread on the subject: https://twitter.com/theycallmeOboi/status/964285590295449600

    More writing from Reed on the problems with increased traffic enforcement in communities of color:

  • Kelly Pierce

    Chicago deserves to have the crime rate of New York or Los
    Angeles. New York was the first big city to pioneer the broken windows theory
    and now the crime rate is where it was in the 1950s. The safe, peaceful
    American big city from a previous generation is happening right now in New
    York. Some believe that aggressive police enforcement can drastically lower
    crime rates and they point to New York as their example.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Part of the overall questionable nature of this whole affair is calling them “bait trucks” to begin with. A locked vehicle with nothing visible from the street isn’t bait, apparently people don’t go fishing much any more.

    But there are two non-mutually exclusive issues happening here. One is whether this was even a remotely intelligent way to address the theft of firearms and other serious crimes happening at the privately owned property. The second is whether it’s even remotely understandable why people are suggesting that a locked truck is somehow fair game just because it’s parked in a poor neighborhood.

    This just isn’t excusable no matter how hamfisted the overall concept was: “Video surveillance shows a man using box cutters to break open the safety seal on the unmarked trailer, she said, and additional footage shows two men finding the boxes of shoes, which were not visible from the street.”

  • rohmen

    NYC’s own studies have severely called into question broken window policing. Here’s one of literally scores of articles talking about the issues NYC’s own reports have found with the practice: http://gothamist.com/2016/06/22/broken_windows_stats.php

  • rohmen

    Yeah. To the second point, they actually ticket because it justifies the pretext, and takes it out of pure stop and frisk territory (which is a no-no now). It’s a separate violation they can point to justify the contact, and I’m sure the CPD thinks the optics look better if they can say they actually ticket the people they stop.

    I’m actually surprised anyone admitted it’s a pretext to begin with. There’s a day and age (like the early 90s) that that sort of admission could have landed you in a civil rights lawsuit pretty quickly. The court’s have largely upheld the practice, which is why police still do it, but they generally still seem to try and deny they’re doing it in communities of color. Pretty crazy admission in all honesty, and people are going to have a field day with it I think.

  • CIAC

    “Are they selecting areas cargo trucks are routinely parked as part of the Railroad’s normal operations, or are they selecting areas near the yards where a truck would be out of the norm, but the area is otherwise high crime? If it’s the latter, I think a much better argument exists that this is simply creating crime.”

    I don’t think that’s simply creating crime at all. The people who would take the opportunity to steal from the truck, whether they are individuals who have triggered the operation in the first place or not, are no doubt committing other crimes as well. And they are probably als encouraging other people to do so. It’s best to catch them before they do more of this. These types of things are common and effective police tactics and they catch the people you want to catch (which is likely in contrast to such things as ticketing for bicycling on sidewalks or stop and frisk). Only a tiny portion of the community is going to take the “bait” and steal. It will not be those who are otherwise law abiding. The reaction against these trucks have been, from my observations, have initially come from activist bullies who have their own agenda. They’ve been able to persuade some naive outsiders who jump at any chance to claim bad police conduct because, I guess, this makes them feel good. But I’d be surprised if the majority of the people in the community didn’t think such things as these trucks were good ideas that deter crime.

  • Jake J. Phineas

    The bait truck is being debunked and now public sentiment is with the police trying to enforce the law.

  • CIAC

    “I can’t shake the feeling that these stories aren’t acknowledging that a lot of calls for increased enforcement are coming from the community itself. They’re calling CPD, attending CAPS meetings, and pressuring their Aldermen.”

    Totally agree. I think that’s a very serious issue with the way the media has been portraying these types of police stories over the past several years. They’ve been acting as if these over-aggressive police strategies have all been the result of the majority white “society” imposing its will on disadvantaged minority neighborhoods because these neighborhoods don’t have enough clout. But the reality is that most of the time the police are responding to complaints from people in the neighborhood about crime.

  • CIAC

    I’m not opposed to enforcing the law more strictly in areas where crime is a more serious problem. But there should be some reasonable relation between the law or ordinance being enforced and the crimes that the police are trying to prevent. That’s as far as can be the case with bike riding on the sidewalk. The ordinance was meant for areas like River North or Lincoln Park where bike riding on the sidewalk can be dangerous (not to mention annoying for pedestrians). In the south side, just like the suburbs, bike riding on the sidewalk probably is actually safer than bike riding in the street. In the suburbs (or at least most of them), it’s not illegal to ride bikes on sidewalks. That’s for a good reason. There’s not very many pedestrians and it’s very safe for the pedestrians that do exist because you can easily maneuver around them.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I’m very familiar with Oboi’s coverage of the issue and in fact I’m largely in agreement with him, but that doesn’t change that his is the perspective a lot of these “biking while black” pieces choose to echo. And it’s not the entire universe of opinion in those communities. It’s just not. I know because I used to have to deal with the other end of the opinion spectrum in those communities almost daily.

    All I’m saying is possible to point to the racial discrepancy in traffic enforcement and those calling out the injustice behind it AND acknowledge that there are often people in those same communities pushing for the increased enforcement, misguided as they may be. Doing so would acknowledge the difficulties of implementing solutions to problems like this, instead of “end police enforcement as part of VZ” as THE solution and wiping your hands clean of the problem.

    And again, it’s not saying you have to agree. I don’t agree with them! But acknowledging their existence would maybe force people to ask why some members of a community can feel both besieged and reliant on constant police intervention at the same damn time.

    Apologies for the novel of a response. It’s not aimed directly at you John.

  • ohsweetnothing

    Good point. But CPD today has “contact cards” that cops have to fill out after every stop regardless whether a ticket is issued. I know because I got stopped and frisked with my bike (wasn’t riding it)…in Logan Square. So they could still behave like they do today without ticketing people.

  • rohmen

    I think the people against this would be against “bait” trucks anywhere, but I do think there’s a fundamental difference between a railroad company placing a bait truck in a place where they’re facing thefts impacting their business, and simply going to a high crime neighborhood and parking it wherever.

    I mean, sure, a bait truck will catch someone committing a crime wherever you put it, but the railroad apparently led this drive, and I’d say at that point place it somewhere that targets the actual criminal element impacting their business. I mean, otherwise, why did they select Englewood? Just based on reputation for higher crime??

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “It’s not aimed directly at you John.” Sure, at this point it would be it would be kind of a stretch to call me “youngish.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    What do you mean, “The bait truck is being debunked”? Norfolk Southern has apologized for the sting and said they won’t do this kind of thing again. https://chicago.suntimes.com/business/englewood-norfolk-southern-bait-trucks-theft/

    Even CPD chief Eddie Johnson has acknowledged that the police may have been in the wrong here: “We will take a hard look to see if there’s something we can do better.”

  • CIAC

    Eddie Johnson’s comment isn’t taking a stand one or the other on whether this was a good idea. He works for Rahm Emanuel. It’s in Emanuel’s interest in this election year for there not to be a perception (even if it’s an incorrect one) of the police using hard-line tactics. So for image reasons, he and those in his administration are likely not going to push back hard on the complaints about the truck even if that makes sense based on the facts. Norfolk Southern is also going to care about it’s image regardless of what the facts are. They apologized because that’s what they think will avoid further bad publicity. And they are likely right. When they apologized, you’ll notice they also defended the operation in detail. So both entities are trying to please both sides. Johnson is using the phrase “hard look” to get people to think there is some regret while also using the word “if” to leave an out. Norfolk Southern is both defending its operation and apologizing for it. They care about image and how they are perceived. If there’s a mob mentality against something they’ll likely decide that expressing regret for it is in their interest even if there shouldn’t be any regret for it at all. You shouldn’t take these statements as confirmation that the truck was a bad idea.

  • Anne A

    I have friends in North Lawndale, and they do call police and attend CAPS meetings about serious problems.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Do you suppose there’s also a bit of a generation gap as well? I’ve seen this pretty much everywhere I’ve lived on the North Side, folks in, say, their 40’s+ seem to be considerably more in line with the “if you aren’t sure what someone is up to, dial 911” philosophy than their younger peers.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I’d be interested in seeing any sort of numbers/polling/data on this, but based on my experience I’d say absolutely.

  • ohsweetnothing

    hahaha, we can just put heavy emphasis on the “-ish” ;)