Drivers accuse Evergreen Park of racial profiling - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Drivers accuse Evergreen Park of racial profiling

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News & Better Government Assoc.) -

Is it racial profiling, or just good old fashioned police work?

FOX 32 News and the Better Government Association crunched several years of traffic stop data from south suburban Evergreen Park, and the numbers raise serious red flags.

SEE: More allegations of Evergreen Park police gun shakedown arise

If you spend any time in Evergreen Park, it doesn't take long to see officers practically everywhere, pulling over drivers. The village of just over 19,000 made more than 20,000 traffic stops in 2011 alone.

People like James Daniels, an African-American man from Chicago, who was pulled over for speeding in Evergreen Park this week.

"Why would I speed, and I know you right there? It's crazy," Daniels said.

Estoria Purnell, an African-American woman from Chicago, was also ticketed this week for speeding in Evergreen Park.

"The officer advised I was over the speed limit, and I know I wasn't," she said.

We can't say if either driver was actually speeding. But, they both think they were pulled over for another reason.

"Racial profiling. Racial profiling. That's what I think," Daniels said.

FOX 32 and the Better Government Association crunched data from every traffic stop made in Evergreen Park since 2004. That's when a state law went into effect requiring officers to record racial data in order to curb racial profiling. Here's what we found: Evergreen Park is around 70% white, but because it's surrounded on three sides by Chicago, the state estimates about 62% of the people driving in the village are minorities. Yet in 2004, minorities made up 65% of all traffic stops, and that number has continued to climb, up to 72% in 2011.

"When you come to Evergreen Park, you better be prepared that you might get pulled over just because you're black or Hispanic," said David Lowery, who runs an organization called Living and Driving While Black Foundation. "Some things never change."

Another troubling stat: the number of minorities stopped keeps climbing--from about 9,600 in 2004, to more than 14,000 in 2011. Yet during that same time, the number of white drivers pulled over has remained almost exactly the same-- hovering around 5,000

We showed the numbers to Craig Futterman, an expert on racial profiling at the University of Chicago.

"The data shows some real red flags," he said. "At a time when racial profiling seems to be getting better in Illinois as a result of this law, at least the recent data and the trend in Evergreen Park is that there are a greater number of stops and a greater percentage of minority stops, which stands out."

FOX 32 and the BGA asked Evergreen Park police chief Michael Saunders multiple times for an on camera interview for this story. He declined, instead sending a two page statement, saying the numbers are due to: "More... Chicago residents [passing] through Evergreen Park's main traffic arteries. Many new businesses for shopping and opportunities for employment have been [created] since the original minority bench mark statistics were instituted."

"If indeed racial profiling is occurring, it could leave the village open to lawsuits, liability issues, motorists can file a lawsuit. There are implications for taxpayers here," said Andrew Schroedter, an investigator from the BGA.

Maybe it is just aggressive police work. But for those drivers we watched get pulled over on busy thoroughfares like 95th and 87th streets, the numbers are as clear as black and white.

"It was point blank obvious. To me, it was racial profiling," Daniels said.

"I'm hoping not. I'm hoping not. I'm hoping not, but who's to say?" Purnell said.

When examining the traffic stop data for suburbs near Evergreen Park, the minority stop rates are generally in line with the minority driving rates in those communities. They also do a lot fewer traffic stops than Evergreen Park.

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