Is Wearing Black Clothes at Night Enough to Cause Reasonable Police Suspicion of Burglary ?

In People v. McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d 73, 370 N.E.2d 537, 12 Ill. Dec. 733 (1977), a police officer observed two men wearing black clothing emerge from a commercial and industrial area at 12:50 a.m. McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d at 75-76. The officer testified that he stopped the men because their black clothing, the hour of night, and his knowledge of the area had led him to conclude that the men either had just committed or were about to commit a burglary. McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d at 76. In support of his conclusion, the officer testified that, although he had received no reports of burglaries in the previous few hours, he knew from having patrolled the area many times that it was a commercial and industrial area that had suffered a number of burglaries. McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d at 76. The officer also testified that it was unusual to see people in that area at that time of night, with the possible exception of hitchhikers, but that the defendant did not appear to have been hitchhiking. McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d at 76. The officer admitted that there was a tavern that was open until 1 a.m. located two blocks from where he stopped the defendant and that the defendant was headed in the general direction of the tavern when stopped. McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d at 76. In addressing whether it was reasonable for the officer to infer that the defendant had committed or was about to commit a burglary, the court in McGowan wrote: "While this is admittedly a close case, we agree with the appellate and circuit courts that the State has met its burden of proof on this question. On Sunday at 12:50 a.m. when the officer first spotted the defendant, Penn's Tavern apparently was the only business establishment open in this otherwise deserted commercial and industrial area. The defendant and his companion were about two blocks away from the tavern, which was due to close in 10 minutes, leaving them barely enough time to reach the tavern and have a fast drink. It therefore would have appeared somewhat unlikely that the suspects were on their way to the tavern. It also appeared unlikely that they were hitchhiking. Thus, on the basis of his experience patrolling the area, the officer knew that the suspects were in an unlikely place at an unlikely time. The officer also knew that the suspects' black clothing would have been highly unusual for persons merely walking down the street at night, but not at all unusual if the suspects were engaged in some kind of surreptitious activity. The officer knew of at least one form of surreptitious activity that unfortunately was not uncommon in this neighborhood, burglary. Thus, while it is possible that the defendant and his companion were merely on their way to Penn's Tavern to have a fast drink before closing time, we agree that it was much more likely that persons dressed in black, walking in the dead of night through an otherwise deserted commercial and industrial area which had been plagued by burglaries, had just committed or were about to commit a burglary. Under these circumstances, the suspects easily might have eluded the officers had the officers attempted to observe the two suspects further rather than stopping them immediately. Hence, the Court agreed that the officer's inference of an imminent or recent burglary was reasonable, and that stopping the defendant therefore was reasonable under the circumstances." McGowan, 69 Ill. 2d at 78-79.