‘Bait Truck' Used by Cops Decried by South Side Residents, But Railroad Company Insists it Must Protect Freight

Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, called on the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety to convene a hearing to hear from police leadership and the community members about the issue.

Railroad cops and Chicago police officers used a “bait truck” in a South Side neighborhood last week, citing an increase in break-ins at railyards. But some residents of the area feel the sting operation unjustly targeted members of the community desperate enough to commit a crime.

Norfolk Southern Police were supported by Chicago police in the surveillance operation aimed at catching crooks they say were breaking into freight containers at Norfolk Southern rail yards in Chicago. The effort involved leaving a semi-trailer parked in the area that would be monitored by officers to see if anyone might try and break in.

“Contrary to media reports, youth were not targeted—those arrested ranged in age from 21 to 59—and the unmarked truck, which was locked and unopened with no indication of its contents, was forcibly entered,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement released to NBC 5.

Chicago police deferred to the rail company for comment.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, released a statement Wednesday as videos of the incident began to circulating online.

“This bait truck operation is an unacceptable and inappropriate use of police resources,” the statement reads. “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 called on the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety to convene a hearing to hear from police leadership and the community members about the issue.

“This initiative serves only to undermine already fragile efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the community, and to reinforce counterproductive policies that have contributed to the mass incarceration of Black youth in our city,” Sawyer said.

In a Facebook Live video posted by Martin Johnson on Friday, a white semi-trailer can be seen parked on Ashland Avenue near 56th Street in the Englewood neighborhood.

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Johnson shouts at passers-by that they should not touch the truck because it’s a “bait truck.”

“That’s them right there,” he says of a black SUV driving past the truck. “Ya’ll seen ‘em?”

“This is what they’re settin’ up in the neighborhood, people,” Johnson is heard saying in the video.

As a small group of people gathers near the semi-trailer, the SUV pulls up and rolls down a window. One of the members of the group, activist Jedidiah Brown, approaches the car and demands the semi-trailer be removed from the neighborhood.

“Get this out my neighborhood,” Brown says. “Stop locking up black kids or entrapping them!”

The car then rolls up its window and drives away, the video shows.

Shortly after, at least two uniformed Chicago police officers approach the man who initially spoke with the occupants of the black SUV. A third man in black fatigues with a vest that says “POLICE” in yellow letters on the back also approaches.

Brown continues to tell the police to “get this truck out of here.”

“Why?” a uniformed officer wearing sunglasses asks, adding that kids shouldn’t be breaking into trucks.

“I think this is bogus and ya’ll shouldn’t be entrapping black kids,” he tells the officers after explaining that he hadn’t touched the tractor-trailer.

Brown asks if the officers do similar sting operations in their own neighborhoods. One of them nods in the affirmative.

The officers tell him to Google “bait truck Chicago” for further examples of how common the practice is in other neighborhoods.

“I want them (to) go in Mt. Greenwood and do this,” Johnson says, referring to the Chicago neighborhood many police, firefighters and city workers live in.

Brown continues to talk to the officers, but the video’s audio is often indecipherable.

“Hey, man, if no one touches it, no one’s getting locked up,” one of the officers tells Brown.

A short while later, a man in black clothing and wearing an orange reflective vest climbs into the cabin of the tractor-trailer and drives it away.

“Ya’ll get this up outta Englewood,” Johnson says in the video. “Out our community!”

Jedidah suggests to the officers they “take these vests off and put some of these black kids in them, and then they have a job, then they have a career.”

“CPD’s hiring!” an officer responds.

The officers eventually get in an unmarked cruiser and drive away.

Karen Sheley, director of the police practices project for American Civil Liberties Union Illinois, issued a statement on the “bait truck” Wednesday afternoon.

“Police in Chicago must focus on building trust and better relationships within the communities they serve, not engage in stunts like bait trucks,” she said. “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. Instead, police should focus on reform and improve outreach to communities that have too often been the target of police abuse.”

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