‘Reformers’ want to end most police traffic stops. Here’s what that could mean for you — and for armed criminals

Chicago police officers conduct a traffic stop in Lakeview in February 2020. (CWBChicago)

CHICAGO — With the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system soon to be removed from Chicago’s streets, so-called “reform” activists are turning their attention to another tool police find useful: traffic stops.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in May that her office is developing a policy not to prosecute gun, theft, and drug charges stemming from certain traffic stops. Foxx said her staff would refuse to file charges in most cases if evidence was found during a traffic stop for missing license plates, expired registrations, and other minor infractions. She called the anticipated change “a public safety enhancement effort.”

“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.

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.”

Out of curiosity, we’ve been keeping an eye out for felony cases that would apparently not be filed if Foxx’s plan goes through. Here are a few:

  • Cops pulled an Uber driver over in the 200 block of West 71st Street around 4 p.m. on June 19 because the backseat passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts, a CPD report said. One of those passengers, 19-year-old Keith Whitaker, had a loaded handgun with a 50-round ammunition magazine attached inside a backpack, prosecutors said. Why did he have the gun? According to the state’s detention petition, Whitaker told the police he “intended to use the firearm to scare some individuals with whom he and his family had been having trouble.” Judge Susana Ortiz denied the detention petition and released Whitaker on an ankle monitor.
  • Aaron Collins, 32, was on bail for a pending murder case when Chicago cops pulled him over for not having a front plate on his car on June 25, officials said. During a narcotics search of the vehicle, police officers allegedly found a loaded handgun under the driver’s seat cushion where Collins was seated. Judge Ankur Srivastava detained him as a safety risk, noting that he is awaiting trial on charges of murder, home invasion with a firearm, and attempted robbery in connection with a 2016 case out of Dolton.
  • CPD officers stopped Timmie Palmer, 40, in the 6800 block of South Ada last Wednesday morning for allegedly having an expired registration. By the time the traffic stop was over, Palmer was facing much more serious charges. The police said they found a loaded handgun under his steering wheel. Palmer is on pretrial release for two gun cases, including one in which he is accused of shooting someone, prosecutors said. Judge Mary Marubio detained him for posing a safety risk and for violating pretrial release conditions.
  • Police pulled over Byron Roberson, 24, near Ida B. Wells and State Street in the Loop on June 24 for not wearing a seatbelt, a CPD report said. Roberson became irate during the stop and struck an open squad car door with his knee, causing the door to injure an officer’s hand, according to the report. During an inventory search of Roberson’s trunk, police allegedly found a box containing an unloaded Glock handgun, a Smith & Wesson handgun, firearm magazines of various calibers, a 3D printer, a 3D-printed firearm lower frame, two 3D-printed rifle upper receivers, tools, and mail addressed to Roberson. Judge David Kelly released him to await trial.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com