A truck full of Nike shoes, left as “bait”, Stings Chicago
CHICAGO — Even in a city plagued by mistrust of law enforcement, residents were shocked by the sting operation: a tractor-trailer full of Nike sneakers parked in a poor South Side neighborhood.
The “bait truck” was left there earlier this month to lure would-be thieves into a trap, authorities said. Three men have been arrested for stealing from the truck, sparking outrage in the community where trust in the police is already at an all-time low.
“You’re all dirty,” a young man shouted at the uniformed officers posted near the truck in a video that quickly spread online. “You wouldn’t have done it in your neighborhood.”
Chicago police, however, played a secondary role in the sting: “Operation Trailer Trap” was run by Norfolk Southern Railway, with officers from its own police unit, and was orchestrated on August 2 and 3 after several thefts of parked vehicles and locked cargo trucks and containers in the immediate vicinity. After the tactic was roundly criticized, the railroad company apologized and promised not to do this again. Prosecutors dropped burglary charges against the men.
But the damage was done. The operation may not have been the Chicago Police Department’s idea, but it certainly bore the brunt of the backlash.
“You don’t bait people. You bait the animals. Do you treat us like animals? Charles Mckenzie, an anti-violence activist who shot the video, said in an interview.
The failure of the operation comes at a tense time for Chicago, where 66 people were shot last weekend, 58 others were shot last weekend and a police officer is expected to go on trial next month in connection with the 2014 murder of a black teenager. The death of teenager, Laquan McDonald, has rocked the city and led to murder charges against officer, Jason Van Dyke.
[Read: In Chicago, One Weekend, 66 Shooting Victims, and Zero Arrests]
“The reason this has touched such a nerve is that we’re at such a low point of trust between the police and the black community,” said Karen Sheley, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “The city has repeatedly promised to reform the police department.”
More than two weeks after the bait truck was deployed in a neighborhood where nearly all residents are black, resentment lingers over the episode. In a rebuke to police, community groups plan to donate hundreds of pairs of donated shoes around the neighborhood this weekend — an idea Chicago rapper Vic Mensa calls the “anti-bait truck.”
Mr. Mensa, a Grammy-nominated artist who grew up in the south side of town, said he came up with the plan because he wanted to find a way to invest in the neighborhood. The timing of the sting operation – during a period of summer violence – was disrespectful, he said.
“Seeing the police escort a bait truck full of shoes through a low-income neighborhood where people can’t afford basic necessities seemed very representative of their ill-equipped to deal with the city’s problems” , Mr. Mensa said. in an interview.
The “bait truck” was left near 59th Place and Princeton Avenue in Englewood, a neighborhood where nearly 60% of residents earn less than $25,000, according to 2015 census data. It’s also the ‘one of the most criminal, although last year he recorded less shootings and other violence than in previous years.
Chicago police referred questions to Norfolk Southern, which said the action was in response to thefts of shipments including firearms and ammunition. Earlier this month, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he would look into the episode closely, but defended the motives behind it.
“They’ve had a lot of gun thefts there, so we have a responsibility to keep those guns off the streets and out of the hands of the wrong people,” Superintendent Johnson told reporters.
Still, some critics questioned why the Chicago police were involved and encouraged the department to take responsibility, even though it only assisted in arrests.
“If you are planning to commit murder and I come with you to drive the getaway car, I will go to jail too,” Mr Mensa said. “Whether or not the initiative is an idea generated by the police, they are complicit.”
Initial reports said police left the freight truck open and teenage boys were targeted, but railway officials said it was locked and the men arrested were between the ages of 21 and 59.
“The suspects saw a parked and unmarked trailer then opened the security seal and broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside,” said Susan Terpay, a spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern.
The railroad also provided video of the thefts, which shows several men inside the truck grabbing large brown boxes. Still, railroad officials apologized in a letter published in The Chicago Tribune.
“Norfolk Southern recognizes that, despite the need to protect freight in the region, this operation has eroded trust between law enforcement and the community,” the letter reads. “We sincerely regret that our actions have caused further discomfort, and we do not plan to use this method in the future.”
The idea of using expensive items to attract would-be thieves is not a new idea. In San Francisco, police used high-end “bait bikes” to make arrests. And a reality show called “Bait Car” on truTV has captured vehicle thefts.
A spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has received a barrage of criticism over his response to the city’s violence as he runs for office early next year, said in a statement that the improvement building trust between police and residents had been a key element in reducing violence in the city.
“We believe Norfolk Southern has made the right decision in eliminating this flawed practice,” spokesman Matt McGrath said.