Lawsuit: Chicago police supervisor says unit pressured 'illegal' stops, arrests
Lt. Franklin Paz alleged he and other lieutenants were urged by the head of the unit to increase the number of traffic stops, arrests and citations
By Jeremy Gorner and Annie Sweeney
CHICAGO — A Chicago police supervisor filed a lawsuit against the city Tuesday alleging he was removed from a citywide police unit because he wouldn’t be pressured to have officers working under him make “illegal” stops and arrests.
The lawsuit, filed by Lt. Franklin Paz in Cook County Circuit Court under the state’s Whistleblower Act, focuses on his role with police Superintendent David Brown’s new Community Safety Team, which was formed last summer in response to a rise in violence and other crime throughout the city.
The formation of the new, permanent roving unit was seen as a controversial idea that has come and gone in the department in recent years within CPD. Such units have been disbanded in the past for their aggressive style or in one case because of a corruption scandal.
Brown vowed that the Community Safety Team would be different, in that its officers would participate in community service projects with citizens, in addition to taking enforcement action on the streets.
In the lawsuit, Paz, 48, alleged he and other lieutenants were urged by the head of the unit, Deputy Chief Michael Barz, to increase the number of traffic stops, arrests, citations and other contacts with the public so that Barz could evaluate the officers’ work on the street. Barz was not named as a defendant. The city’s Law Department had no immediate comment on behalf of Barz or the department.
Purposefully generating such statistics — known in police jargon as “activity” — has been frowned upon over the years by officers on the ground and police accountability advocates. Using such measures to please police brass can also put the department at risk of committing wholesale constitutional violations, they have said, such as racial profiling and other civil rights infractions.
Torreya Hamilton, Paz’s lawyer, said high demands for more stops and arrests have a negative effect on minority communities where the Community Safety Team does much of its work on the city’s South and West sides.
“Numbers-driven policing leads to illegal policing in the neighborhoods of people of color,” Hamilton said. “Forcing police officers to generate certain numbers-driven activity levels, that leads only to illegal stops.”
That Black residents are targeted for stops by Chicago police at a higher rate than white residents has been detailed in litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the U.S. Justice Department and even a police task force chaired by Mayor Lori Lightfoot before she took office.
Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor who is overseeing a federal consent decree to improve Chicago’s policing practices, conducted a survey last year on how Black Chicagoans view the police. The survey showed, among other things, that young Black men reported getting stopped by police at much higher rates than others.
This is not the first time Barz has faced accusations in a whistleblower lawsuit by a fellow officer. He was once accused in a deposition by former Chicago police Officer Shannon Spalding of detaining her during his time as a sergeant in the Bureau of Internal Affairs, in exchange for her dropping a lawsuit against the department.
In that suit, Spalding — without naming Barz as a defendant — accused her police bosses of retaliating against her for working with the FBI in its investigation into Sgt. Ronald Watts, a former public housing officer who went to prison for shaking down drug dealers for protection money and pinning false cases on those who wouldn’t pay. City officials settled that whistleblower suit for $2 million in 2015, a settlement that was reached with the city shortly before then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel would have been forced to take the witness stand in the case.
According to the lawsuit Paz filed Tuesday, the lieutenant said Barz instructed him and other supervisors to generate specific amounts of police activity during their shifts.
“When a unit engaged in a high number of stops, Barz congratulated the supervisors of the unit by telling them that their units were ‘crushing the numbers,’” the lawsuit alleges. “By the ‘numbers,’ Barz meant traffic stops, arrests, citations, and other documented contacts with people on the street.”
In one meeting with a group of lieutenants in the unit, Barz stated the new approach of Superintendent Brown was “the same game, different name” and said Brown expected officers to focus on increased traffic stops and “getting blue cards,” a document created by officers that lists a motorist’s race and other identifiers but does not indicate an arrest or citation.
The lawsuit also states that Barz began to criticize the “platoon” that Paz oversaw in the unit, “falsely accusing those officers and their supervisors of not generating enough ‘activity.’”
Between roughly mid-July and mid-September, Barz made statements to a number of Community Safety Team officers, including Paz, that indicated he was requiring them to meet quotas in their daily activity, the suit alleged. For instance, in one conversation, Barz is alleged to have instructed Paz that officers under his supervision should bring in a minimum of 10 blue cards per day.
In another conversation, according to the suit, Barz singled out one of the sergeants who reported to Paz, stating he was going to be “dumped” from his assignment unless he began “producing” more activity.
“When Paz tried to defend the sergeant by explaining that in the past, they had focused on community policing efforts and quality of life issues in their areas, which do not result in the data that Barz wanted, Barz’s response was to say ‘(expletive) community policing, I need activity.’”
Barz also allegedly told Paz that his officers weren’t generating enough activity and threatened to “blow up the entire platoon” and “dump” everyone unless those statistics improve. Paz tried to explain to Barz that he had a tough time meeting those demands, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, but Barz told him he didn’t care, according to the lawsuit.
“I don’t want to hear any of that (expletive),” he said, according to the suit, “they still have to come to work and produce.”
“Paz reasonably believed Barz was insisting that the police officers on the CST engage in illegal activity,” the suit also alleged. “By demanding a certain number of stops without regard to the criminal activity justifying those stops, Barz was effectively requiring officers to engage in unlawful profiling, seizures of people that were not justified by probable cause, and violations of the civil rights of persons they encountered.”
On Sept. 23, according to the lawsuit, Paz sent an email about Barz’s demands to then-Deputy Superintendent Barbara West, who headed the department’s Bureau of Constitutional Policing and Reform, the unit tasked with ensuring CPD is in compliance with a federal consent decree to improve its practices. But Paz never heard back, and West later retired.
Paz also emailed Barz in late September about his concerns about generating activity and stated to him, “This is the exact reason we are in a consent decree as we speak,” according to the suit. After that, Barz told other CPD personnel that he wanted Paz moved from his assignment, the suit alleged.
In early October, Paz learned he’d been removed from the unit when he got a text message from the commander of the South Side’s Grand Crossing patrol district, asking him if he was aware he’d been reassigned there, the suit stated. Paz then learned he was placed on the overnight shift and that his days off were changed. The move was seen as an “adverse and negative personnel decision,” the suit stated.
“Neither Paz nor anyone from the CPD have ever explained to Paz why he was being removed from the CST and sent to work the midnight shift in the ( Grand Crossing) district,” the suit alleged.
Paz said in the lawsuit that the transfer was retaliatory by CPD, and Barz in particular, and it has caused Paz to suffer “extreme humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety and stress.”
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