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4 problems with the Chicago PD's gang database

Critics have slammed the gang member database. How will the Chicago PD respond?

The Chicago Inspector General has held several public hearings related to the Chicago Police Department's gang member database, gathering feedback and concerns from critics and civil rights advocates. Some have long argued that the city's list of "known" individuals with gang affiliations is problematic and violates civil rights.

Detractors have four major complaints about the database, which they hope will be addressed as a result of the hearings:

  1. It's too broad - Chicago police officers are encouraged to document known gang affiliations of people they stop or arrest. However, there are unclear limits on what qualifies a person for inclusion. Officers may use tattoos, admissions from arrestees or information from police informants to identify gang affiliations. Critics argue that the database should be composed solely of individuals who have been arrested for gang-related activity.
  2. It's racially skewed - Black and Latinx individuals make up a staggering 95 percent of the list, which many take as a sign of racial bias. Given the tendency of law enforcement officials to target people of color on a local and national scale, many of the list's detractors are considered about this racial disparity.
  3. It's out of date - Once a name is added to the database, it remains indefinitely. There is no expiration date or process for disputing an individual's inclusion. Many individuals on the list have been included for decades.
  4. It lacks transparency - Currently, individuals who are added to the list are not notified or given an opportunity to contest their inclusion. The public does not have access to the list, but other law enforcement agencies do. That means a person may be hit with a harsher sentence or larger bail amount because of their inclusion - without ever knowing they were identified in the database.

The inspector General has vowed to make certain improvements, including clearer criteria for inclusion and a system for notifying identified individuals and allowing them to contest their inclusion.

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