54th and Ellis shooting

Two representatives of the non-profit Chicago Against Violence watch police activity at the site of a homicide that took place on 54th Place just east of S. Ellis Ave. on Tuesday, Nov. 9. 

Chicago and University of Chicago police have expanded car and foot patrols and camera surveillance and will plan to increase traffic stops and ticketing, officials said at a meeting that included further details about new neighborhood policing measures in the aftermath of a pair of Nov. 9 shootings.

Alds. Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) hosted the Dec. 1 meeting. CPD Superintendent David Brown and Eric Heath, associate vice president for safety and security with the UCPD, attended. 

As detailed at previous meetings, Chicago police will increase its network of cameras around the neighborhood, including Police Observation Devices and license plate readers. Brown said that temporary cameras are being installed until more permanent ones can be put in place. 

Chicago police have also instituted a 53rd Street car patrol from Shore Drive to Ellis Avenue during second and third watch and a Community Safety Team — a citywide team of officers that can be deployed to any neighborhood — in the area between 47th and 53rd streets and Lake Park and Woodlawn avenues.

Police will also increase the frequency of foot patrols and “blue light missions,” in which squad cars turn on their blue lights in order to “create a heightened sense of visibility,” said Area 1 Deputy Chief Fred Melean. 

CPD and UCPD will increase its number of traffic missions, with Brown noting that the car involved in the armed robbery that resulted in the death of Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng was stolen. 

“It was a stolen car driving through Hyde Park looking for someone to rob,” he said. “We missed an opportunity to stop it if we were vigilant.” 

Heath, meanwhile, said that the UCPD is conducting joint patrols with CPD officers, and that the two departments are working together on “long-term strategic ideas … technology needs to be a huge piece of that.” 

The U. of C. previously announced the creation of a 24-hour “strategic operations center”; Heath said the center will include live access to cameras and “real-time intelligence.” 

UCPD is also requesting more staffing, said Heath, since shortages of police at the school’s medical center means that officers will often have to be pulled from other assignments. 

Both CPD and UCPD faced questions from residents about the possibility that an increased police presence and a policy of undertaking more traffic stops could lead to, or exacerbate, racial profiling. 

A state report showed that police in Chicago stopped Black drivers seven times more often than white drivers last year. UCPD has long faced accusations of racial profiling, with an April 2016 Chicago Reporter analysis finding that 155 out of 166 pedestrians stopped for questioning in the previous 10 months were Black. (Black people make up roughly half of the people living in UCPD’s area of coverage.) 

“I personally don’t tolerate bias of any kind,” said Brown yesterday. “It’s a violation of our policies, the accountability is up to termination for bias in any of our police actions.” 

Heath echoed him. “All of our policies and procedures are specific to preventing bias-based policing. And if you believe you've experienced that, I encourage you to make a complaint with your department,” he said. “We do not get a lot of complaints per year.” 

Kenwood resident and data scientist Eric Langowski has collected UCPD data from 2015 to 2021 on the department’s traffic stops and field interviews, finding that “African Americans are stopped, searched and cited at rates higher than any other racial group.” (Langowski said he has met with Heath to share his data.) 

The number of traffic stops conducted by UCPD increased significantly between 2016 and 2019 — there were 342 stops in 2016 compared to 1,654 in 2018 and 1,419 in 2019. That figure dropped to 576 in 2020, perhaps because of the pandemic.

Across all these years, between 70% and 77% of the drivers stopped were Black. Black drivers also received citations 14.5% of the time they were stopped, compared to 7.7% for non-Black drivers. Almost all vehicle searches were conducted on Black drivers including 36 out of 37 searches in 2019.

Editor

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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