A sting operation involving a “bait truck” full of Nike sneakers parked in a poor, predominantly black Chicago neighborhood sparked outrage last week after a video circulated online of police arguing with local residents who claimed that the truck was a “trap” for kids playing basketball at a nearby court.
Now, Norfolk Southern Railway, which orchestrated the operation in response to a series of cargo thefts in the area, has apologized to the community for stoking distrust between locals and law enforcement.
“We sincerely regret that our actions caused further unease, and we don’t plan to use this method in the future,” Herbert Smith, the railroad’s manager of community and legislative relations for the region, wrote in a letter to the Chicago Tribune.
Public outcry has escalated since the video was first posted by local activist Charles Mckenzie, prompting organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to speak out against the tactic.
“Police in Chicago must focus on building trust and better relationships within the communities they serve, not engage in stunts like bait trucks,” said Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU’s police practices project.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Englewood, where the truck was parked, is 95 percent black, and the median household income is just over $20,000 per year.
It’s unclear from the video whether the unmarked truck’s cargo actually contained shoes or just empty boxes, but incidents of sneaker-related crime — ranging from burglary to murder and often involving teenagers — have been a constant in low-income neighborhoods for several decades.
Norfolk Southern earlier defended the sting, dubbed “Operation Trailer Trap,” arguing that it was prompted by thefts of guns and ammunition from nearby trailers and containers.
“At the time, local residents and officials told us we needed to do more to prevent this, and we have responded,” Smith wrote. “Norfolk Southern, in coordination with local, state and federal officials, employs a wide range of preventative and surveillance methods (seen and unseen) to deter crime. We regularly change and improve enforcement tools, but unfortunately thefts continue.”
The Chicago Police Department denied that it was involved with planning the operation, saying it only assisted with the arrests. Felony burglary charges were dropped against each of the three men arrested in connection with the sting, said officials, though one still faces a misdemeanor assault charge.