Political News

Chicago police department defends use of watch list

Posted May 16

— A Chicago Police Department list of people deemed most likely to commit gun crimes or be a victim of gun violence includes many people who have never been charged with a violent crime or illegal gun possession, according to a newspaper analysis.

The Chicago Sun-Times (http://bit.ly/2psbIJw ) analyzed a version of what is called the "Strategic Subject List" that it obtained after a lengthy legal fight with the police department and found that the list is far more extensive than the department has suggested. It's version of a list was culled from a database that includes the names of nearly 400,000 people who have been arrested for any crime, and fingerprinted, in the city since 2013.

The paper found that about half the people at the top of the list — those the department suggests are most likely to be involved in gun violence either as a victim or a suspect — have never been arrested for illegal gun possession. It also found that 20 of the 153 people deemed most at risk to be involved in a violent crime, as victim or shooter, have never been arrested for a gun crime or a violent crime.

The department has said that the roughly 1,400 people at the top of the list drive the gun violence in Chicago. It explained that there are a host of factors besides arrest for gun crimes that go into assessing whether a person is at risk of becoming a victim of gun violence or of being a gun offender, including involvement with gangs and drugs.

Other factors can contribute to high scores, including whether or not police have identified a person as a gang member and whether they have been arrested for any crime, including nonviolent offenses. Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that means that people who have never been arrested for on gun charges could still be at greater risk of becoming a victim of gun violence or an offender if they are, for example, members of street gangs, have been shot or arrested on drug charges.

"Like a credit score, the SSL is simply a tool that calculates risk," said Guglielmi. In addition to using the list to identify possible victims or suspects, the department uses it to warn those with the highest scores that they are at risk of being involved in gun violence.

The department won't say how much weight is given to each of the eight factors that go into the scores, which are determined by an algorithm. This has led to calls for more transparency from the department.

"If the government is going to outsource decision-making to a computer, the public should be able to examine how the decisions are made and whether it's fair and effective," said Karen Sheley, the director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

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