The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday blasted former U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon for what it characterized as a “blindsided attack” on a 2015 agreement curtailing the Chicago Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk measures.
In an open letter released to the media after he left office Monday, Fardon said the ACLU’s settlement had “swung the pendulum hard” away from pro-active law enforcement by “telling cops if you go talk to those kids on the corner, you’re going to have to take 40 minutes to fill out a form, and you’re going to have to give them a receipt with your badge number on it.”
Fardon said the new procedures for street stops, as Chicago police call them, were a key reason for the spike in violence that began in early 2016 and had a chilling effect on many police officers who “no longer wanted to wear the risk of stopping suspects.”
In response Tuesday, Karen Sheley, the police practices director for the ACLU of Illinois, said Fardon’s opinions were out of line with the Justice Department’s own investigation that found widespread constitutional abuses of citizens, particularly in low-income minority neighborhoods where the majority of street stops occur.
Fardon also “wildly exaggerated” the time needed to fill out the form and ignored “the real impact and harm of these stops,” which occurred far too often and under suspect or unconstitutional circumstances, Sheley said in an emailed statement.
“These stops were often invasive — with officers reaching inside someone’s clothing — and intrusive, happening repeatedly to the same person,” Sheley said. “The lack of oversight of the stops reflect the same systemic deficiencies identified in the Department of Justice report on the CPD issued early this year.”
Citing statistics from the ACLU’s own research, Sheley said police conducted more than 700,000 street stops in 2014 that yielded no guns and resulted in not a single arrest.
“These low-benefit stops came at a high cost — they further damaged the relationship between the community and police,” Sheley said.
For years, Chicago police had routinely conducted tens of thousands of street stops each year of people they deemed suspicious, questioning them and sometimes patting them down. Police also filled out contact cards with limited information about the person stopped.
In 2015, the ACLU of Illinois conducted a study that found that Chicago police made more than a quarter-million stops from May through August 2014, a far higher rate than New York City cops did at the height of their much-maligned stop-and-frisk policy.
Its analysis showed Chicago police stopped African-Americans at a disproportionately higher rate than Hispanics and whites, especially in predominantly white neighborhoods.
The ACLU contemplated suing the Police Department over the practice, condemning it as racial profiling. The department denied the profiling allegations but agreed to changes that required officers to more thoroughly document their street stops. The changes were also incorporated in a new state law.
Fardon abruptly resigned as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor Monday, three days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ surprise announcement asking all 46 Obama administration holdovers to step down.
Fardon’s five-page letter, which was handed to reporters before he left the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, urged the city and Justice Department to push through a consent decree for sweeping changes at the Police Department, called for federal and local police to “flood” neighborhoods afflicted by rampant gang crime, and labeled social media as what’s driving “the virus of gunplay” among young people.
His words expressed a deep frustration with the entrenched nature of Chicago violence, which last year increased to levels unseen in two decades even though Fardon made it his office’s top priority from the moment he took the reins in October 2013.
Joel Levin, who has served as Fardon’s first assistant for the past several years, was named acting U.S. attorney while a search for a permanent successor is conducted.