The Case of the Not-Stolen AirPods

Most of us who went to school in the United States have been threatened with detention for minor infractions like uttering a curse word or showing up to class five minutes late. But in Illinois, such behavior was landing students in far more serious trouble. Since a recent state law prohibits school administrators in Illinois from fining students for infractions, those same administrators turned to the police to handle disciplinary actions. A recent investigation by ProPublica found that local police in Illinois were issuing ticketed citations to thousands of middle school and high school students each year. Kids caught fighting, vaping, skipping class, or even “causing a disturbance”—a sketchily defined catch-all—were facing tickets with fines of up to $500. These illegal fines put financial strain on the the kids’ families, caused the students to miss school to attend hearings, and added to the normal stresses of school life, all without fulfilling their intended purpose of encouraging positive changes in their behavior. One case, involving a student who was accused of stealing a pair of AirPods, recently went to a jury trial as the student tried to clear her name.

This week on Gadget Lab, ProPublica reporters Jodi S. Cohen and Jennifer Smith Richards join the show to talk about their in-depth reporting of the case of the missing AirPods and how police overreach has affected students in Illinois.

Show Notes

Read Jodi and Jennifer’s ProPublica story about the missing AirPods and follow all of their reporting about how police cite students in Illinois.


Jennifer recommends putting up a hammock in your backyard. Jodi recommends the Scrub Daddy sponge. Mike recommends the Longreads Top 5 newsletter. Lauren recommends donating to ProPublica.

Jodi S. Cohen can be found on Twitter @jodiscohen. Jennifer Smith Richards is @jsmithrichards Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

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