Foxx plan to ditch evidence found during traffic stops would be ‘devastating,’ former police chief says

Chicago police officers recover a firearm during a traffic stop in Lakeview on February 4, 2020.(CWBChicago)

CHICAGO — Police traffic stops have become a hot topic lately, with critics claiming that Chicago police disproportionately stop Black and Brown drivers for minor infractions, intending to turn the traffic violation into a vehicle search that could turn up guns or drugs.

Some say that the stops are fishing expeditions.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is one person in that camp. Last month, she announced that she is formulating a policy that could result in her office not pursuing gun and drug cases that result from “pretextual stops,” traffic stops conducted by police intending to look for evidence of other crimes.

“Armed with data, armed with the knowledge that these stops have not significantly or in any way reduced violence in our city, [my office] 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,” Foxx told the Sun-Times.

About that data. 

In March, WBEZ published a story claiming to show the number of gun cases that resulted from traffic stops in Chicago since 2011. The outlet said their report was based on data provided by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The numbers intrigued us because they showed that only 51 of the 2,086 gun cases the state’s attorney’s office prosecuted in 2014 resulted from traffic stops—less than 3%. Based on our extensive experience in felony bond and detention hearings, that number sounded low. Other years also seemed low

As a test, we randomly selected 100  CPD gun cases from 2014 and reviewed the arrest reports. We found the number was on pace to be far higher than just 51 traffic stop cases. So, we asked the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office how they determined whether a gun case originated with a traffic stop.

They did not reply.

We will continue to pursue that information.

If you want to change the law, then go to Springfield

One person who thinks Foxx is on the wrong road with her traffic stop idea is retired Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel.

“I have stated my entire career that if you want to change the law, then go to Springfield and lobby for an actual change in the criminal statutes,” Weitzel said. “She is just trying to use her ‘prosecutorial discretion.’ It is like the President of the United States using executive orders to get around passing legislation through Congress.”

He said the elimination of pretextual stops would be “devastating.” As an example, he pointed to 911 calls about suspicious vehicles, which are common.

“When the officer arrives and spots the suspicious vehicle, they see [a minor traffic] violation …which would lead the officer to make the traffic stop, which is lawful, and then conduct the investigation from that point,” Weitzel explained.

“I can tell you with absolute assurance that in my career in law enforcement, especially as chief, my officers confiscated drugs and weapons, picked up individuals on felony warrants, including out-of-state felony warrants, and arrested DUI offenders based on minor Illinois vehicle code violations as the initial stop,” the veteran cop said.

Asked for examples of fruitful traffic stops, Weitzel pulled from his personal experience.

“As a patrol officer at Riverside, I was working the midnight shift and made a traffic stop at a vehicle with no headlights … In this incident, the driver was drunk, and I made the arrest. Additionally, the individual initially gave false information on his identity. Once I was able to identify him, it was learned that he had a double homicide warrant out of California… struck and killed two individuals in California, and then fled the state. He avoided apprehension for numerous years until my traffic stop occurred based on a minor violation for driving with no headlights,” Weitzel said. “Under Kim Foxx’s proposed policy, her office would not prosecute because the initial stop was based on no headlights, which is ridiculous.”

Weitzel is concerned about the growing list of changes being made to policing under the banner of “reform.”

“So far in Illinois, the following tools have either been taken away from the police or are about to be taken away from police: the gang database, ShotSpotter, no foot pursuits, no car pursuits, police agencies being restricted from purchasing military equipment, restrictions on taser, restrictions on juvenile interviews, issuing traffic citations instead of making a physical arrest, Ring doorbell now requires criminal warrants for video, restrictions on the use of police canines, restrictions on the use of drones, and now Kim Foxx wants to restrict the type of traffic stops that police officers can make, which she is classifying as pretextual.”

“If you want your police officers to sit in the police station and respond like firefighters or sit in parking lots and wait for the next call, then Kim Foxx’s proposed policy is for you. For me, I say no way, and you should as well,” he continued.

“I am not a Kim Foxx fan, and I have never been,” Weitzel admits, “but I want to be precise. I am not a fan of her policies and procedures. This is not a personal attack. It is 100% about how she runs her office, which is anti-police. She and many of her top-level prosecutors are considered more defense attorneys than prosecutors.”

Original reporting you’ll see nowhere else, paid for by our readers. Click here to support our work.

About Tim Hecke 333 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com