Did Chicago Police Use a ‘Bait Truck’ to Generate Arrests?

Three people, including a 36-year-old deaf man allegedly looking for food, were arrested as part of the sting.

  • Published 9 August 2018

A video filmed in Chicago showing an arrest connected to use of a “bait truck” by law enforcement is legitimate and has drawn criticism from local leadership and civil liberties activists.

The footage, which was posted on Facebook on 2 August 2018, shows officers standing near the truck, which a person can be heard describing as containing “boxes of Nike shoes”:

Critics angrily complained that police had targeted African-American youths, enticing the youngsters by leaving an untended and unlocked truck full of valuable sneakers out on a public roadway. Officials countered that the sting targeted no one other than thieves in general, that the truck was locked and required considerable effort to break into, and that perpetrators couldn’t have known the truck contained Nikes until after they broke in and began ransacking it.

The truck was used as part of a joint operation by police from Chicago and a private company, Norfolk Southern Railroad. A company spokesperson, Susan Terpay, said that the operation targeted people who were “breaking into freight containers in rail yards” on the city’s South Side.

Three people, including 36-year-old David C. King, a deaf man who told police via sign language he was looking for food, were arrested during the operation. Terpay said in a statement that the suspects “saw a parked, unmarked trailer and then proceeded to cut open the safety seal with box cutters, broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside.”

The statement also responded to social media criticism about the use of the truck saying, “Contrary to media reports, youth were not targeted.”

Chicago police have said that they only assisted Norfolk Southern’s officers in carrying out the sting, but the department has still been accused of engaging in an improper use of its resources.

“In a moment where police capacity is clearly under extreme strain, these sort of tactics are the last thing we should be spending manpower and energy on,” said Alderman Roderick Sawyer, who represents the city’s Sixth Ward and heads the Chicago City Council Black Caucus.

Sawyer also reportedly called for a meeting on the matter between community members and police leadership, to be hosted by the council committee on public safety.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois criticized authorities for employing the truck. Attorney Karen Sheley, who heads the group’s police practices project, said that police would be better off fostering trust with residents.

“The Chicago Police Department admits that it can’t solve murders and violent crimes because communities of color don’t trust the Chicago police,” Sheley said. “These stunts won’t help.”

We contacted Sawyer and Terpay seeking further comment, but neither of them responded prior to publication.

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