Poor residents railroaded in theft sting using ‘bait trucks,’ activists say

An activist criticizes police after a so-called "bait truck" was used in a sting operation on the South Side. | Screenshot from YouTube video

The Chicago Police Department and Norfolk Southern Railroad are under fire after videos of a sting operation in which so-called “bait trucks” were parked in Englewood in an attempt to nab would-be thieves went viral on Wednesday.

In the videos, reportedly filmed last Thursday and Friday, activists and community residents approach unmanned and unmarked semitrucks to call out what they say is an attempt to entrap poor residents. The residents say the trucks were stocked with Nikes and left unlocked.

Several officers, including many uniformed Chicago police officers, can be seen gathering around the trucks.

“It’s a set up, man. This is how they do us,” one man is heard saying in the video shot on Thursday by Englewood activist Charles Mckenzie near a basketball court on 59th Street and Carpenter Avenue. “They some dirty [expletive].”

 

Later in the video, an officer is heard telling the crowd that if “no one touches [the truck], no one gets locked up.”

By Wednesday, the videos had garnered hundreds of thousands of views across multiple social media platforms.

 

In a statement to news website Block Club Chicago, CPD spokesman Officer Patrick McGinnis said the investigation was lead by Norfolk Southern Railroad Police and that “CPD was there to assist with enforcement.”

Nortfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said in a statement that the trucks were part of a “joint surveillance operation” seeking to catch people who have broken into freight containers at rail yards on the South Side.

On Wednesday, Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, chastised the operation, calling it “an unacceptable and inappropriate use of police resources.

“In a moment where police capacity is clearly under extreme strain, these sort of tactics are the last thing we should be spending manpower and energy on,” Sawyer said in a written statement.

Karen Sheley, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois’ Police Practices Project, also issued a statement condemning the operation, saying on Wednesday that it weakens community support of police efforts.

“The Chicago Police Department admits that it can’t solve murders and violent crimes because communities of color don’t trust the Chicago Police. These stunts won’t help,” Sheley said.

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot also weighed in, calling the operation a “step backwards”—particularly after one of the deadliest weekends in recent years.

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of how this happened and make sure these tactics are never used again,” said the former head of the Chicago Police Board.

CPD has employed “bait cars” for more than a decade to stifle car theft.

According to the FBI, more than $26 million worth of goods were stolen from cargo containers across the country in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.

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