Cook County State’s Attorney Doesn’t Want to Prosecute Drug or Gun Cases Stemming from Traffic Stops – Bearing Arms

Cook County State’s Attorney Doesn’t Want to Prosecute Drug or Gun Cases Stemming from Traffic Stops – Bearing Arms

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has a bold idea to reduce crime in Chicago: refusing to prosecute offenses that are discovered during routine traffic stops. 

Foxx claims that the number of traffic stops in Chicago and surrounding Cook County have been soaring, and minorities are being disproportionately targeted by police. Her theory is that by rejecting charges brought about as a result of a traffic stop, police will back off.

“It felt like it was time to do something about it,” Foxx said. “And so our office — armed with data, armed with the knowledge that these stops have not significantly or in any way reduced violence in our city — decided that it was time to look at this issue and see if we could model a best practice that we’ve seen in other jurisdictions.”

Under the policy, her office would decline to file drug, gun and theft charges in cases that begin with traffic stops for minor issues, such as having an expired vehicle registration, a missing license plate or nonfunctioning brake lights and headlights.

If this sounds nutty to you, you’re not alone. Even some of the prosecutors working under Foxx are alarmed by her plan. 

“People are in disbelief,” said one prosecutor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “This is unthinkable.”

Foxx said her office’s current caseload related to traffic stops was “not significant in numbers,” but the source said more than 70% of gun cases are in some way connected to such stops.

The proposal comes in the wake of the police killing of Dexter Reed in March. After Reed was purportedly stopped for not wearing a seat belt, he apparently shot a Chicago police officer and was killed in an ensuing gun fight with four other officers who unleashed a barrage of 96 bullets.

On the one hand, if Foxx’s draft policy does take effect, we’re going to see far fewer Chicagoans arrested and charged with B.S. crimes like possessing a firearm without a FOID card. But the real problem is that Illinois has some of the most draconian gun laws in the country. If Foxx were simply advocating for the repeal of those laws that would be one thing, but telling cops that her office won’t prosecute criminal activity if it was discovered during the course of a traffic stop is essentially an abdication of her responsibility as a prosecutor. 

Foxx and other criminal justice reformers say the number of traffic stops has exploded since the Chicago P.D. agreed to scale back its “stop-and-frisk” tactics, with police now targeting drivers instead of pedestrians. There were approximately 100,000 traffic stops in Chicago in 2015, compared to about 400,000 in 2021. 

Citywide, Black drivers are six times more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers. Latino drivers are pulled over at twice the rate of whites. Just two of the city’s 22 police districts — both majority Black areas — accounted for 20% of all traffic stops.

The stops rarely turned up drugs or weapons and seldom led to an arrest, according to the Impact for Equity report. Less than 1% of all stops resulted in officers finding a gun or drugs, and in 2021 just over 2% of stops resulted in an arrest.

How much of the city’s crime takes place in those two districts? It stands to reason that there’s going to be a greater law enforcement presence in the most violent neighborhoods in Chicago, which in turn is going to lead to more policing in those places. 

As to the fact that drugs or guns are rarely found during these stops, I’m not surprised. These are traffic stops, after all. While Foxx may believe that police are using these stops as a pretext to look for evidence of more serious crimes, she hasn’t offered much evidence to prove her theory.

I’m not a fan of stop-and-frisk policies, but even if Foxx could prove that Chicago police are now using traffic stops as a sort of stop-and-frisk for drivers her plan to not accept criminal charges in these cases doesn’t make any sense. In these situations, there is a legitimate reason to make the stop, and if evidence of more serious crimes is found when a driver is pulled over, it’s absurd to ignore those crimes because of how they were uncovered. 

If Foxx truly wants to try something different as a “public safety enhancement effort”, she should refuse to prosecute anyone arrested solely for possessing a firearm without a FOID card or a carry license. The FOID law has repeatedly been found unconstitutional by circuit judges in the state, though it has been upheld on technicalities by the Illinois Supreme Court, which has refused to rule directly on the conflict between the FOID statute and the Second Amendment.

Foxx would never do that, of course. Her draft proposal isn’t about showing respect for the right to keep and bear arms. It’s about cutting criminals a break.  

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