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County Gang Database May Be Gone, But Activists Want To Know How To Help Those Whose Lives Were Already ‘Destroyed’ By It

While Sheriff Tom Dart decommissioned the gang database his office maintained, many want more information about its dismantling and an accounting of its impact on those listed.

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CHICAGO — While Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said he has decommissioned the regional gang database his office maintained, freshman Cook County Board Comm. Alma Anaya (D-7) and activists called Thursday for more information about its dismantling and an accounting of its impact on those listed.

Activists pushing for the end of both Chicago and Cook County’s gang databases contend being included in the database can make it hard to get a job, find housing, lead to false arrest, incarceration, deportation and denial of a citizenship application.

The Cook County Sheriff’s gang database “included 25,000 people, including hundreds whose gangs aren’t known and hundreds who are dead,” according to ProPublica Illinois.

“Authorities from 371 different agencies in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin can obtain or add information to what’s known formally as the Regional Gang Intelligence Database,” ProPublica reported, which jail officials used, in part, to determine how to keep rival gangs away from each other within the jail.

The database was designed to provide suburban police departments with crime predicting analysis similar to New York City’s CompStat program as part of a larger crime-fighting platform.

But Dart’s office said “most agencies would not agree to provide their local data, which severely limited our capabilities,” leading them to scrap it starting in December.

In a letter to Cook County Board commissioners, Sheriff Chief Operating Officer Bradley Curry the Regional Gang Intelligence Database was “taken offline and terminated” on Jan. 15.

“The web application and database have been removed from the Sheriff’s Office servers and its physical, encrypted drives are now secured in a safe in our server room,” Curry wrote. “This means [the database] cannot be located on the internet and no internal or external user can access its web application.”

While lauding its decommission, Anaya said she would still move forward with public hearings.

“I think the community needs reassurance, that’s what we’re trying to get with the public hearing,” Anaya said, adding that she wants to know that that the contents of the database can not be used to continually discriminate against people for their gang affiliation.

Anaya’s proposal (19-0687) calls for the sheriff to provide a written notice “who is currently or who has been designated a gang member since 2013 in one or more of databases the sheriff has access to” that includes the date of their designation, the gang affiliation, the basis for the designation, the name of the officer who made the initial designation, and any external agencies that have access to it.

“One of the reasons that we’re all here today is because of the lack of transparency around this database,” Civil Rights attorney Sheila Bedi told reporters at a news conference organized by activists. “What we know is that the databases feed each other — the gang designations included in these databases are used during court proceedings, they’re used to deny bail. I think we need to know what decommissioned means… we also need to know more about whose lives have been destroyed by the fact that this gang database has been in existence for decades.”

Anaya’s predecessor, Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-7) requested that Cook County Independent Inspector General Pat Blanchard audit the database. Anaya said she wanted to see that audit completed.

“I don’t believe that abruptly decommissioning the database is a solution in itself,” Anaya said. “I believe this is an ideal moment to work collaboratively to address public concerns on the issue, for the Board to understand the complexity of [the database] and collectively decide on next steps within a public process, including setting guidelines for the use of data collection and usage, as well as the preservation of public safety in the future.”

The Cook County Board approved and referred the items included in our Wednesday preview.