Hearing held on use of Chicago gang database

CHICAGO -- Chicago police say its gang database has been an effective tool to stop violence.  A hearing was held Friday calling for more transparency in its use.

After testimony from activists and academics, law enforcement and legal experts, the senators say they have serious concern about the way data is being used in the fight against violent crime.

Illinois State Senator Patricia Van Pelt is concerned that the Chicago Police Department’s so-called “strategic subject list” and gang database both could be tools used for racial profiling.

“This is tearing at the fabric of the community,” she said. “89 percent of African-American men age 20-29 are on that list.  That is outrageous. It seems like they’re making a determination at birth who should be on it and who should not.”

Van Pelt held a State Senate Public Health Committee hearing at Malcom X College to assess the impact on the city’s minority populations.

The list is an algorithm that takes a series of factors like previous arrests, gang affiliations and other public records. Then it produces a score.

“If you continue your criminal activity and continue to be involved in crime, it’s obvious that it’s going to increase the likelihood that you, yourself either might be an offender or victim in a future violent crime,” said Jonathan Lewin, Deputy Chief of Technology and Records.

Lewin spoke with WGN News about the list last year. He says the strategic subject score can predict a person’s likelihood to commit a crime.

“It’s basically zero up to what we call 500-plus.”

State Senator Mattie Hunter says the lack of transparency creates serious concerns.

“What are they doing with the data? How are they using the data? That’s what I’d like to know.”

Police say they don't target people based on race, religion, gender or geography.  Police say they don’t use the information to until a crime has actually been committed.

“I don’t believe they’re using it after a crime is committed,” Van Pelt said. “It’s not something they’re using after the crime. It’s something they’re leading with.”

“It’s not about us targeting them for arrest, our goal is to get them out of that lifestyle so we don’t have to arrest them,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.

After today’s hearing the ACLU of Illinois called for a more open system saying a statement:

“Such transparency would include, for example, proactively releasing the number of individuals