CHICAGO (CBS) –Since the start of the pandemic, there’s a big change for the Chicago Police Department.

We examined data showing a decrease of more than 50% in investigatory stops — a process in which officers stop and question someone suspected of a crime.

Chicago Police investigatory stops dropped from 3,500 from the first week in March to fewer than 1,000 at the beginning of April.

At the time, it was the lowest ever tallied.

“It’s concerning,” said one Chicago Police officer.

The beat cop, who asked to remain anonymous, told CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas he used to do four or five stops a day. Now, it is usually one, at most.

“It shows that police arent getting out of their cars to investigate people as much as they used to,” the officer said.

Investigatory stops often start with something minor, like stopping and questioning someone suspected of drinking in public. Most stops do not end in an arrest, but some officers say they can be a valuable tool.

“A lot of the times, it leads us to find bigger things,” the officer said. “With gun crime being as bad as it is in Chicago, a lot of the times, this is how we find guns. It’s the easiest way.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, on the other hand, said there is no clear evidence that the stops – also know as terry stops – reduce crime.

“A terry stop is a really invasive moment in a person’s life,” said Karen Shelley, director of the Police Practices Project with the ACLU of Illinois. “If you look at the amount of crime right now since we got in the pandemic, which is a really unusual time in Chicago, most crime is down. There has been an uptick in violent crime, but overall, the crime numbers are much lower.”

Shelley also said the shops can drive distrust between communities and the police, and disproportionately target Black people.

“They cause a lot of harm to community engagement and don’t produce a lot of results,” she said.

The stops can lead to officers frisking or patting someone down, which can be a problem in a pandemic.

We asked the CPD if COVID-19 concerns are driving the numbers down. The CPD sent us a statement saying the numbers dropped in March because of fewer people on the streets.

One reason they have stayed lower is that police have had to shift resources and move officers to focus on violence and civil unrest. The numbers from the week of June 14 are even lower than the April numbers.

“Everything going on, it’s just, it’s not ideal to put yourself at a higher risk of something going wrong,” the officer said.

The officer said he has concerns about COVID-19, but in his case, that is not the only reason he is doing fewer stops.

“Most people don’t necessarily like being stopped by the police,” he said. “You run the risk of there being a confrontation or something going wrong.”

The CPD started keeping records on the stops in 2016, and at least since the numbers have never been this low consistently.

But police insist they’re still going after gun offenders. They say gun arrests are up about 17 percent compared to this time last year.

This was the CPD’s statement:

 

“The Chicago Police Department is committed to ensuring public safety while also treating everyone equally, fairly and with respect. The decline in investigatory stops correlates with the number of residents and motorists complying with the statewide stay-at-home-order. Additionally, the increasing gun violence, as well the recent incidents of civil unrest and protests, have contributed to the strategic shift of Department response to ensure resources are deployed to areas experiencing increased violence and civil unrest.”