In Chicago suburbs, more police shootings have occurred in communities with large black or Latino populations, The Chicago Reporter found.
Using news articles and court records, the Reporter gathered information on police shootings reported since 2000 and found that 73 shootings have occurred in 52 out of 262 communities within the six-county area.
Of the 73 shootings, 19 occurred in 12 suburbs where, according to Census 2000, African Americans made up 25 percent or more of the population. With a total of 231,830 residents, these communities had a rate of 0.82 shootings per 10,000 residents.
With 18 shootings, nine communities where Latinos made up 25 percent or more of the population posted a rate of 0.45 shootings per 10,000, while 36 shootings, at a rate of 0.37 per 10,000, occurred in the other 31 suburbs, which were at least 50 percent white.
Gerald Frazier, president of Citizens Alert, a police watchdog group in Chicago, said the issue behind most police shootings in suburbs is a cultural misunderstanding between police force and increasingly diverse population it serves. “You always have what I think is a small racism factor—[officers] don’t view different people the same as their own,” he said.
With six shootings, west suburban Aurora, with a Latino population of about 33 percent, recorded the highest number of incidents—at a rate of 0.42 shootings per 10,000.
But Aurora Investigations Lt. Brian Olsen said the number of shootings isn’t high considering the city’s population, which in 2000 was the highest among Chicago suburbs at 142,990. “I don’t believe that our number on average is anything out of the ordinary,” he said.
Olsen added that his department makes sure that all officers are trained regularly. “We go through a lot of training on an annual basis—handcuffing all the way up to shooting scenarios,” he said.
In predominantly black, south suburban Dolton, shootings occurred at a rate of 0.78 shootings per 10,000. Guy Lindsay, internal information coordinator for the Dolton Police Department, said he doesn’t believe the number indicate any trend. “Crime doesn’t really work on a time table,” he said. “We’re subject to the mores of society, period.”
Maywood, another predominantly black community in the south, had shootings at a rate of 1.48 per 10,000. Tim Curry, spokesman for the Maywood Police Department, said he believed that the best way to reduce the number of shootings is to educate the community on the law. “There are situations you can control and you can’t control,” he said. “Public education is the only thing I see we can do at this point. If a criminal wants to commit an act and force the officer to use the lethal force there’s nothing we can do about that but react to the problem.”
Jon Loevy, a Chicago lawyer who specializes in civil rights issues, thinks one problem with suburban policing is that many small departments don’t have the resources required to investigate their own police officers. This, he said, means that they call in the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force to investigate. But, according to Brian Ley, master sergeant at the Illinois State Police, the task force has found the police shootings it has investigated since 2000 as justified 100 percent of the time.
“[Policemen] know there are fewer consequences,” Loevy said. “I think the same issues coming up in Chicago work across the board. There needs to be an openness to investigations.”
As a solution, Frazier of Citizens Alert advocates community policing, which he said will allow police officers, many of whom live outside the community they serve, to establish relationships with residents. That would encourage officers to “take a stake” in the community and help lessen the distrust, he said.
“[The suburbs are] not just place[s] where they chase suspects,” Frazier said. “A lot of bad things could happen when you’re an outsider.”
Contributing: Marine Olivesi, Shelley Zeiger