Chicago introduced a Community Safety Team police unit in the summer of 2020, hoping to strengthen the bond between police and the communities they serve. However, data show the team focused instead on interactions known to harm community relations: hundreds of thousands of traffic stops, Bolts reports. The Community Safety Team was responsible for nearly a third of all traffic stops citywide by 2021, more than any other police team. Community Safety officers overwhelmingly stopped drivers in Black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, contributing to massive racial disparities in traffic enforcement. Since a 2015 lawsuit led to major reforms of stop-and-frisk encounters, CPD replaced stop-and-frisk with stopping exponentially more motorists. Many doubt whether the department can course-correct to an earnest community policing model.
“The city has a horrific history of these roving, violent citywide teams…that racially profile people and terrorize and physically brutalize people,” said Alexandra Block, Director of Criminal Legal Systems and the Policing Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “The Community Safety Team is just an outcrop of that pattern.” In 2021, when the Community Safety Team was at its largest, its officers logged over 150,000 traffic stops—more than twice the number of community engagement activities, the data show. Between 2015 and 2023, officers made over 4.5 million traffic stops, mostly in Black and Latinx neighborhoods. This work culminated in a class action lawsuit filed in June 2023 against the city on behalf of Chicagoans claiming the traffic stop strategy routinely violated the rights of Black and Latinx drivers. The lawsuit is still in early stages, but its goal is to end citywide units dedicated to traffic stops so Chicago Police can reel in the harm to community trust inflicted by the Community Safety Team and affiliated units.