CHICAGO — The plain white freight truck had been roaming Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood when the word got out: The trailer was packed with brand-new Nikes, and cops were watching.
Three men were arrested when they took boxes off the truck in this mostly black neighborhood. A neighbor soon trained his camera on what was later confirmed to be a “bait truck,” placed there by the nearby Norfolk Southern Railway and the Chicago Police Department to lure would-be criminals with a target of opportunity and inevitable arrest.
A video documenting the operation, reportedly aimed at stopping freight and train car theft, went viral after the Facebook page of community activist Charles Mckenzie shared it, saying the truck was unlocked, loaded with Nikes, and targeting kids. “They want us to respect CPD, and CPD is setting us up,” Mckenzie says in the video. Martin G. Johnson, a self-described “crime chaser,” followed the truck and posted video of it on Facebook Live. People decried it as a setup.
“You allow the criminals to go after their prey,” Johnson told VICE News. “You don’t set the prey there for them to set them up.”
The practice of “baiting” is widespread in American policing to draw out potential criminals, whether it’s using undercover agents to buy or sell drugs or pose as sex workers, or using decoy trucks full of merchandise, cars, bikes, computers or cell phones, or leaving packages with GPS devices on people’s porches. But even when it works and the arrests make headlines, they rarely spark outrage.
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