CHICAGO (CBS) – Evergreen Park is not a big town, yet its police officers stop more motorists than just about any other suburb in Cook County.
Meanwhile, even though most of Evergreen Park’s residents are white, minorities account for a majority of these traffic stops.
“You have to be careful driving in Evergreen Park,” said one motorist recently pulled over in the 3-square mile suburb.
The south suburb’s police stopped just under 94,000 motorists from 2012 to 2016, records show. It’s a staggering number compared with nearby towns, such as Oak Lawn (48,995 stops); Alsip (16,618); and Hometown (4,746).
Police officers in Illinois must record the ethnicity of every driver they stop, thanks to legislation co-sponsored by former President Barack Obama, back in 2003 when he was an Illinois state senator.
That data, submitted each year to the Illinois Department of Transportation, shows a startling divide in who gets pulled over in Evergreen Park.
About 74 percent of Evergreen Park’s 20,000 residents are white. Yet, 67 percent of stops last year involved minority drivers.
Similar disparities existed in 2015 (66% minority vs. 34% white), 2014 (66% minority vs. 34% white), 2013 (69% minority vs 31% white), and 2012 (69% minority vs. 31% white).
Evergreen Park Police Chief Michael Saunders denied a request for an on-camera interview, instead providing a 2004 analysis that stated a lot of minority drivers use the suburb’s roads, because Evergreen Park is surrounded by 14 Chicago wards with largely minority populations.
David Bradford, executive director of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety, said the traffic stop data alone isn’t necessarily a red flag.
“The number itself is not an indication that an agency is engaged in bias-based enforcement,” he said.
Bradford said that requires officials to determine who is driving through the suburb.
Evergreen Park police says its estimated minority driving population is about 64 percent, just below the percentage of minority drivers its officers consistently stop.
In a recent visit to Evergreen Park, the 2 Investigators observed 16 traffic stops, 13 involving minority drivers.
In a statement, Saunders says traffic stops help reduce crime and accidents. He denies his officers are engaging in biased policing, noting all of his officers wear body cameras, and minorities make up a quarter of his force. Read his full statement here.