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The “Terrible” Consequences of Chicago’s Ticketing Policies

The city tried to raise revenues by hiking the cost of sticker tickets, but instead hurt motorists in low-income, black neighborhoods.

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

On Thursday, in partnership with WBEZ, we published the latest in our series of investigations into Chicago’s ticketing practices, pinpointing how the city raised the cost of city vehicle sticker tickets as a way to bring in millions of dollars in revenue. That extra revenue didn’t materialize. Instead, the increase in ticket cost disproportionately impacted black Chicagoans, helping force some black motorists into substantial debt, to lose their licenses, lose their cars and even declare bankruptcy.

Melissa Sanchez and WBEZ reporter Elliott Ramos talked about this story on WBEZ and WVON and asked people to call in. And did they.

We’ve also been hearing from people about their experiences: a personal Twitter thread detailing struggles to pay tickets; a retweet from @eveewing that points to the “devastating … but not surprising” nature of this; and an observation about the slew of recent stories about ticketing black Chicago. We’ve noticed that, too.

So we’ve rounded up a couple of those stories.

Black cyclists are ticketed at higher rates for bicycling violations, reports The Chicago Reader. And according to the Chicago Tribune, a bike ticket can cost from $50 to $200. At a bicycle advisory meeting, the Chicago Police Department acknowledged that police are using bike tickets, as well as motor vehicle stops, as a strategy to help intercept illegal guns and drugs in high-crime neighborhoods.

“The fact that they’re admitting to enforcing the law differently in different kinds of communities is shocking,” Aditi Singh, a staff attorney with the criminal justice reform group Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, told The Reader. “It does appear that the police are allowed to make pretext traffic stops, but what they’re admitting to is disproportionate minority contact.”

Winter-related tickets also disproportionately affect minority communities. The category of winter-related tickets includes violating the overnight parking ban, parking on the street when it snows two inches or more and failing to shovel sidewalks. According to WBEZ, tickets for unshoveled sidewalks range from $50 to $1,000, depending whether the violation occurs on personal property or at a business. Citations seem to be concentrated in Englewood.

What other instances of ticketing are we missing? Let us know.

Where Else We’ve Been

Listen to WNYC: Duaa Eldeib spoke about children being held beyond medical necessity in Illinois psychiatric hospitals.

Listen to WBEZ: Jodi Cohen discussed how the University of Illinois at Chicago used the definition of the word “complaint” to withhold information regarding a nationally known psychiatrist’s clinical trial on children with bipolar disorder that was shuttered for misconduct.

Listen to The 21st: Mick Dumke talked about his work on error-ridden gang databases used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies with potentially troubling consequences.

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Helga Salinas

Helga Salinas is a former engagement reporting fellow at ProPublica Illinois.

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