Kent Police host community awareness meeting Nov. 14
The Kent Police Department invites the public to a community awareness meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Kent Elementary School, 24700 64th Ave S.
The meeting will provide residents with more information on how to make their neighborhoods safer. It also will bring police leadership and community members together to address community crime concerns and introduce police resources that can help residents make their neighborhoods safer and more secure.
Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas and agency administrators will answer questions about department operations and community safety concerns. Members of the department's Neighborhood Response Team and Community Education unit also will be hand to answer questions and take input regarding specific issues or concerns within the community.
The Kent Police Bike Unit will make a special presentation.
A cornerstone of the Kent Police strategy for creating safe communities lays in Intelligence Led Policing. This practice uses real-time crime intelligence, sharing information with our partners, pro-active problem solving and community partnerships to address the issues of crime while improving the quality of life.
For more information, visit www.kentwa.gov/police or www.facebook.com/kentpolicedepartment
Police stops raise suspicions
Pressure on officers to fill out 'contact cards' for street stops have some concerned about legality of tactic; others say it alienates those who could provide information
by Jeremy Gorner
Under pressure from police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to reduce violence, Chicago police are increasingly writing up "contact cards" — the form they fill out when making street stops — raising concerns of civil libertarians that the number of unconstitutional stop-and-frisks are also on the rise.
Through the first 10 months of the year, officers had filled out more than 600,000 contact cards, already exceeding last year's total of 516,500 and far outpacing the 379,000 written in 2011, when McCarthy took office, department records show.
Contact cards go back decades as a tool for Chicago police. If officers stop a person on the street but don't make an arrest, they are required to jot down the age, address, race, time and location, and reason for the stop. The contact cards can be helpful to police in keeping track of gangbangers and solving crimes.
McCarthy, the product of a New York City Police Department that relied heavily on stop-and-frisk tactics that a federal judge recently found unconstitutional, has been riding commanders of Chicago's 22 police districts for months to increase street stops by cops, according to numerous police sources.
There is no quota on how many contact cards must be filled out by individual officers each workday, according to the sources, but if too few have been written in a district, commanders risk incurring McCarthy's wrath in front of peers at weekly meetings on CompStat, the department's data-driven strategy that uses crime statistics and street intelligence to hold police brass accountable for the neighborhoods they oversee.
"Everything will improve if we just get out of the cars and put our hands on people," McCarthy said last January as he peppered a deputy chief, a rank above district commander, with questions about a steady jump in shootings on the South Side, according to a transcript of a CompStat meeting. "Make sure your officers are doing this, making out contact cards, and make sure we are stopping the right people at the right times and the right places. This will prevent more crime."
McCarthy's spokesman, Adam Collins, credited the sharp increase in the number of contact cards to the department's renewed commitment to community policing, saying officers more and more are getting out of their squad cars and interacting with the public in positive ways. As part of that effort, officers have been undergoing mandatory training over the past two years to improve their contacts with the public, including giving them a better understanding of what it's like from the public's perspective to be stopped by an officer, Collins said.
Officers interviewed by the Tribune said they write enough contact cards to satisfy their bosses. One tactical officer who works on the North Side said he tries to fill out three or four during an 81/2-hour shift. Among those who might catch his eye are people, particularly youths, hanging out on known drug corners, walking late at night through a private parking lot or looking into a car window.
"If you're out there, there's always people to stop," the veteran officer said.
Officers are not required to fill out contact cards if they have what the department calls a "citizen encounter" — described as "voluntary" interactions with those they don't deem suspicious. But officers must complete a contact card whenever they make what's known as an "investigatory street stop" but don't end up making an arrest. Officers are authorized to make those stops if they have "reasonable suspicion" that the citizen is doing something illegal, according to the department's general order on contact cards. Officers also can fill out contact cards on motorists stopped for traffic violations.
Most times officers enter the personal information directly into computers in their squad car or station house, but paper cards still can be used. All the information, though, ends up in the department's computerized database. In addition to personal identifiers and the reason for the stop, the information includes clothing, physical description, tattoos and associates. Information from the cards is removed from the database after a year, according to the general order.
But the department said it doesn't keep track of how many of the hundreds of thousands of contact cards are filled out for citizen encounters as opposed to investigatory street stops, making accountability impossible, critics say.
Officers said street stops are integral to their work, especially in dangerous neighborhoods, helping them learn the identities of those congregating in gang "hot spots" and drug corners. Over a year's time, the contact cards can document where troublemakers routinely hang out and with whom, a valuable resource for investigating crime.
"We want to know ... who they were with, what they were driving and what they were wearing," said one South Side sergeant, stressing the importance of contact cards. "A lot of these people have something unique about them (and) hopefully that jumps out to a policeman. The same thing that jumps out to a policeman is probably going to be the same thing that (later) jumps out to a witness or a victim of a crime."
Just this year contact cards have proved pivotal in high-profile homicide investigations. Detectives investigating the fatal January shooting of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton at a park not far from President Barack Obama's Chicago residence combed through months of contact cards and learned that a white Nissan matching the description of the getaway car used in her slaying in the North Kenwood neighborhood had been pulled over several times before in that area. The cards showed that Michael Ward and Kenneth Williams — who were ultimately charged in Hadiya's slaying — were inside the white Nissan during one of those stops.
In 2011, in a controversial move that many blamed for the sharp rise in homicides the next year, McCarthy eliminated the aggressive citywide strike forces that parachuted into trouble spots to tamp down violence. The strike forces weren't the answer, McCarthy said in an interview last year, because they "offend a community" and "they're just stopping everybody rather than the right people."
But even as the department says it has shifted its focus to community policing, some crime experts and civil libertarians are troubled by the implications of the growing use of contact cards.
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor, said McCarthy's call for more contact carding puts officers at risk of making more illegal stops and threatens to undermine the department's efforts to improve trust, particularly with the African-American community.
"Police officers are getting lots of pressure. More and more stops. More and more searches. More and more frisks," said Futterman, who specializes in police misconduct issues. "And the people on the other end of that ... who live in the very communities that are most besieged by crime, most besieged by violence and who the police officers need as effective sources of information ... are alienating and pushing away from the police."
John Eterno, who rose to captain during a 21-year career with the New York City Police Department, called the sharp rise in contact cards by Chicago police over the past two years "a major red flag."
"I'd be very concerned if I was a Chicago resident," said Eterno, now a criminal justice professor at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Harvey Grossman, the longtime legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, described the department's storehouse of contact card records as a "civil libertarian's dilemma," calling it essentially a catalog of "suspicious characters" in the eyes of police.
The ACLU first learned about the department's use of contact cards after filing a federal civil rights lawsuit in 2003 on behalf of Olympic champion speedskater Shani Davis and three others who alleged unlawful stop-and-frisks by Chicago police. Realizing the database contained valuable numbers on the department's practices, the ACLU has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests in recent years seeking information on the contact cards.
From a sampling of 207 investigatory street stops in 2010, the ACLU determined that 119 were legally justified, 20 weren't and it was impossible to tell with the remaining 68 because the reasons given were too vague.
That means that about 10 percent of the stops were improper, according to the ACLU's analysis.
"A significant number of stop-and-frisks in Chicago are no good," Grossman concluded.
Since the department doesn't track the number of investigatory street stops, Grossman said, "Nobody can audit the frequency of (illegal) stops."
"The system is not properly policing itself," he said.
Among the stops found to be unjustified by the ACLU were these:
• "A civilian was walking in an area where someone had been seen with a gun."
• "A civilian was 'stopped for information' about a scam."
• "A suspected gang member was 'coming from a hot spot' for drugs."
• "A civilian was 'stopped and interviewed regarding gang activity' at 11:40 a.m."
A number of young African-American men interviewed by the Tribune in high-crime neighborhoods on the South Side said police often stop them for no legitimate reason and jot down their personal information on contact cards.
On a recent night, a reporter witnessed a black teen with dreadlocks being searched by a uniformed officer as he stretched out his arms on the hood of a marked squad car at Champlain Avenue and Marquette Road in the West Woodlawn neighborhood. After the police left, the man, who refused to give more than his nickname of "Man Man," said he had been stopped for riding a bike on a sidewalk. He said police stop him as often as three times a week.
Josh Chester, 22, said officers often don't give a reason for a stop or they make one up.
"They're always going to hit you with some BS like: 'We got a call. They were shooting around here. There was gang activity going on,'" said Chester, who lives in the West Pullman neighborhood.
It's not uncommon to see stop-and-frisks every day, Tony Anderson, 22, said at a West Pullman community center across the street from a gas station where he said he was recently stopped, searched and contact-carded.
Anderson said he feels desensitized by the police tactics and questions the propriety of the strategy.
"It happens so much you start to get used to it," he said. "But that's not how things should be."