Push to monitor police traffic stops under federal court order faces stiff resistance from community groups

As the killing of Dexter Reed loomed over a pair of hearings Tuesday, many community members and advocates insisted the Chicago Police Department’s controversial practice of traffic stops should not be overhauled through a slow-moving federal court order.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer called the hearings to get input about requirements for traffic stops that could be added to a consent decree that took effect in 2019 and mandates sweeping police reforms.

Speakers argued the consent decree isn’t the proper way to address a pressing issue that came under increased scrutiny earlier this year after Reed was killed in a gunfight with police tactical officers who purportedly stopped him for not wearing a seat belt.

“This is not really about accountability and swiftly ending pretextual stops, but is about a kind of red-taping of the problem,” said Keron Blair of the Community Renewal Society, referring to the practice of officers pulling over drivers for minor offenses to find probable cause for another crime.

“We believe that if CPD was serious about addressing this problem, it could end pretextual traffic stops today without the glacially moving … massive bureaucracy that is the consent decree,” he said.

The hearings showed that some Chicagoans have lost confidence in a process that was intended to build public trust and shift the department’s culture.

But in the years since the court order was implemented, the department has faced sharp criticism over its increased reliance on traffic stops that disproportionately target people of color and rarely lead to the recovery of guns and drugs.

Police Supt. Larry Snelling has pushed to have traffic stops monitored under the consent decree while touting a significant year-to-date decrease under his watch.

Snelling insisted that expanding the consent decree offers “long-term oversight over how CPD conducts traffic stops.”

“I am 100% dedicated in making sure that we get to the bottom of this,” he said. “If we’re going to rebuild our relationship with community, we have to acknowledge some of the things that we have problems with, and we have to take corrective action.”

Blair and other speakers endorsed a plan put forth by the Free2Move Coalition, an alliance focused on creating “a safer, more racially equitable system of traffic safety in Chicago.” The proposal seeks to end pretextual stops, limit stops for low-level offenses and require cops to have some level of suspicion to conduct a search.

Proponents of the plan argued that bringing traffic stops under the consent decree would effectively elbow out the Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, a civilian-led panel that has the power to develop CPD policies.

That concern was echoed by Anthony Driver, the commission president, who noted that policies covered by the consent decree are outside his body’s jurisdiction. That means the commission would lose the authority to set policy governing traffic stops if the court order is expanded.

Driver, however, said he’s confident the commission can work with the parties in the consent decree to “reach agreement about a collaborative process with clearly defined roles.”

Alexandra Block, an attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, said the plaintiffs she represents in a federal lawsuit targeting CPD’s “mass traffic stop policy” are skeptical of the city’s “self-serving offer” to monitor those stops under the consent decree.

The ACLU previously sued over the department’s so-called stop-and-frisk practices, leading to a settlement that contributed to a significant drop-off in the number of street stops in recent years. But in the wake of that settlement, traffic stops rose dramatically.

“It’s telling that the renewed interest in expanding the consent decree here followed directly after CPD officers shot [at] a Black man, Dexter Reed, 96 times during a pretextual traffic stop,” Block said. “But that feels like damage control, not a genuine interest in fixing the problem.”

Reed’s sister, Porscha Banks, said her family has been living a “nightmare” since her brother was killed. Like other speakers, she called for an end to pretextual stops and the disbanding of tactical teams.

“I know that there’s nothing that will bring my brother back,” Banks said, “but justice being served will warm me and my family’s heart.”

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