The Slatest

Police Under Fire for “Bait Truck” Full of Shoes Left in Black Chicago Neighborhood

A line of police officers standing in the street. "Black Lives Matter" is chalked on the asphalt.
Police in Chicago are facing criticism for targeting black Englewood residents with a “bait truck.”
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Police in Chicago are under fire for reportedly parking a “bait truck” filled with expensive shoes in a predominantly black and low-income neighborhood in an apparent attempt to lure people into stealing them.

Residents of the Englewood neighborhood in southwest Chicago claim that last week, police left a partially opened truck stocked with Nike Air Force 1 sneakers and Christian Louboutin shoes in several places around the community, including near a basketball court where local kids play.

A video shot by Charles Mckenzie, a local crime-prevention community activist, shows residents confronting police on Thursday for trying to bait people into stealing the shoes. The video shows the truck that allegedly contains the shoes, along with a large crowd of officers and several police cars nearby. One resident chastises the group of officers, saying, “Y’all dirty, man. … It’s a setup, man!” Another video, shot by Martin G. Johnson—a self-described “crime chaser”—reportedly shows the same bait truck in a new location in the neighborhood on Friday. Johnson also characterizes the police’s actions as a setup.

The police have not responded publicly to the videos, and it is still unclear exactly which law enforcement agency is responsible for the bait truck operation in Englewood. McKenzie told Vox that some of the officers he filmed said they work for the federal government.

Last week’s incidents are part of a broader trend in policing across the U.S. In recent years, police departments have begun using bait devices more frequently in an attempt to reduce crime. Police intentionally place these objects—usually cars, bikes, or unattended packages—in high-crime areas in an effort to catch thieves in the act. So, for example, a bait bike might be left in a location where bike theft has been common recently, with the intention of catching serial offenders. The bait devices are typically outfitted with surveillance and tracking equipment so that police stationed nearby can quickly nab the people who take them.

The bait truck in Englewood provoked outrage among community members who say it is illustrative of a larger pattern of overpolicing in communities of color, particularly black neighborhoods, which punishes vulnerable people rather than meaningfully addressing the root causes of crime or poverty. In McKenzie’s video, one black resident can be heard asking a white police officer whether the police would deploy bait trucks in their own neighborhoods.

The apparent targeting of those on the basketball court compounded some residents’ frustration. “There were a lot of young guys playing basketball,” Mckenzie told Vox. “Why would they do that in the poorest communities to people who don’t have anything better?” Sneaker theft is not a well-documented issue in Englewood. In fact, in the past year, the neighborhood has experienced a notable decline in violent crimes and car theft, according to the Chicago Tribune.