Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new data visualization allows for a detailed look at who’s being policed, where, and by whom.
In just a four-month period in 2014, Chicagoans were stopped and frisked at four times the rate at which New Yorkers were in 2011, when the practice was at its peak in New York City.
That shocking contrast came out in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois three years ago. Following its release, the city agreed to keep better records of all their street stops and searches, even those that didn’t end up in arrests, and submit these records to independent oversight by a judge. The result: Two reports have since been issued by the judge confirming that Chicagoans of color are disproportionately affected by the practice.
But some police reform activists weren’t satisfied. Making raw data on these interactions public played a huge role in the seminal court ruling in 2013 that deemed the practice unconstitutional in New York. And activists in Chicago want Chicago’s raw, unfiltered, stop data released publicly, so they, too, can push for the elimination of the practice.
This week, the Lucy Parsons Lab, a non-profit technology collective focused on police accountability took a step in that direction, by releasing data from police “contact cards”—records officers fill out each time they make a street stop—between 2014 and 2016. LPL visualized the information, which they obtained through public records and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, in an interactive map. It’s a fascinating look at who is doing the stopping, who is being stopped, and where in Chicago.
“You basically see the decisions the police department makes on how to police the neighborhood,” said Paola Villarreal, who made the map.
It appears that the highest concentration of total stops (in red) are happening on the west side of town—in the areas near Humboldt Park and Garfield Park (outlined in blue). Choosing a race in the base map allows users to see that there is a high concentration of black and Hispanic residents in these areas (in grey):
The map also allows users to filter by race of the officer and the race of the person being stopped. Hispanic Chicagoans, for example, are being stopped at the highest levels along the south branch of the Chicago River, in neighborhoods like the Lower West Side and South Lawndale where, perhaps unsurprisingly, large concentrations of Hispanics live:
Incidentally, these are the same neighborhoods (outlined in blue) where Hispanic beat officers seem to conducting the majority of their stops:
The map allows for a variety of permutations. Here’s where white cops are stopping black Chicagoans in the city, for example. The total number of stops in the bright red West Humboldt Park jurisdiction (outlined in blue) is 17,050:
Below, the map shows where the black cops check white subjects—The largest number of such stops is only 4,330, and clustered in the downtown beat that includes the Navy Pier (outlined in blue):
And black cops are stopping the most people in the area west of the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side (in blue, 6,468 total stops):
The map is a preliminary visualization of the data, but it confirms a couple of things. The first: It supports the conclusion of previous reports showing that stop-and-frisks overwhelmingly target black and Hispanic neighborhoods. And second: The Chicago Police Department’s own data suggests that this disparity in policing is not driven by the bias of an individual cop—but likely by systemic perceptions about criminality. The Chicago Police Department, despite its recent efforts to diversify its ranks, remains majority white. But the assumed answers to questions of “who looks suspicious?” and “who is likely to commit crime?” appear to be coded into the current approaches to policing itself, critics say.
“One of the things that surprised me the most was how often African-American officers stopped African-American subjects,” said Freddy Martinez of the Lucy Parsons Lab. “It goes to show that representation of brown people in systems of power does not translate into reducing racism.”