Recent revelations regarding the Chicago police’s use of Stop and Frisk searches, StingRay surveillance, and the existence of a ‘black site’ in Homan Square, begs the question – What is happening in Chicago?
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has found that the Chicago Police Department is the nation’s leader in the use of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” practice. Chicagoans are now stopped four times as often as New Yorkers. The report finds that when Chicago police stop individuals, the justification for the stops rarely meet constitutional standards.
In the Summer of 2014, the CPD performed more than a quarter million stops of individuals that did not lead to an arrest. This puts the CPD ahead of the NYPD in stops per 1000 residents. The NYPD has had to scale back the use of the practice after a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional in the city. The ACLU also found that African Americans were often singled out for the searches.
“While most of the media coverage has suggested that that stop-and-frisk was a New York phenomena – it’s misuse is not limited to New York,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Chicago has been systematically abusing this practice, for reasons that are not justified by our constitution.”
The Chicago Police Department has faced increased scrutiny in recent months for their surveillance practices and violating suspects’ rights to due process. In the last six months the CPD has spent more than $120,000 to fight a lawsuit around the departments use of StingRay surveillance tools. The StingRays are a brand name of cell-site simulators, a device which tricks cellphones into thinking it is a cell tower and gathers up sensitive data.
Chicago resident Freddy Martinez is suing the city for what he calls unlawful surveillance. Chicago police say the device has only been used to catch criminals, and refuses to release details of how they use the new technology. The Chicago PD and other law enforcement agencies sign non-disclosure agreements with Harris Corp, for the use of StingRay surveillance. This has created a dangerous situation where the police often are unwilling to speak freely about how they tools are being deployed.
StingRays are not the only tools the CPD is using, however. In early 2014 it was reported that the Chicago police are experimenting with a new program designed to predict whether a person will commit a crime in the near future. In recent years predictive analytical systems have become increasingly popular with police departments determined to stop crime before it happens, also known as “pre-crime”. One of the CPD’s tools is a “heat list”, a list of around 400 citizens who are most likely to be involved in a violent crime.
Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, “My fear is that these programs are creating an environment where police can show up at anyone’s door at any time for any reason.” CPD Commander Jonathan Lewin believes, “This [program] will become a national best practice.” The CPD received more than $2 million from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to test the program.
BenSwann.com also reported on the revelation that the CPD has been using a warehouse as a “black site” to illegally hold suspects without access to family, attorneys and subject to beatings. The facility is located in Chicago’s Homan Square and has been used as a work station for special police units.
The Guardian interviewed lawyers and former detainees who revealed several facts, including detainees being kept out of official arrest databases, shackled for extended periods of times, and denied access to attorneys for 12 to 24 hours. Some suspects were as young as 15 years old. One man was found unresponsive while at the facilities interview room and later died.
Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the United States. Every day the city’s police department looks more and more like the violent, criminal police departments in other major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston. To recap, the Chicago are: police stopping individuals at an increasing rate; operating cell phone surveillance systems and “heat lists”; and illegally holding suspects under the threat of violence. At what point do we ask ourselves, is this the best we can do? Is this the only form community protection can take?