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Don’t Create A New Gang Database, ACLU Tells Lightfoot And Chicago Police

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot should “declare a moratorium on all gang databases until there can be a public evaluation of whether such a database should even exist," the ACLU said.

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Isadora Ruyter-Harcourt/Flickr
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CITY HALL — Chicago Police should scrap a plan to create a new gang database designed to correct the widespread and deep-seated problems identified in an audit by the city’s watchdog, the ACLU of Illinois urged Friday.

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot should “declare a moratorium on all gang databases until there can be a public evaluation of whether such a database should even exist,” according to a letter from Rachel Murphy, an ACLU staff attorney.

That public input is necessary after Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s audit found the database was operated with little or no oversight, contained worthless or outdated information and could block black and Latino Chicagoans listed in it from getting jobs, send them to jail and lead to deportation.

“The proposed Criminal Enterprise Database is an insufficient and premature solution to CPD’s broken gang database system,” Murphy wrote. “These gang designations are hurting people now. CPD must immediately stop using and sharing information from this broken system.”

Department brass have touted the new database will be a “single, unified system” that will include “updated and vetted” information and provide an opportunity for individuals listed to be notified and allowed to appeal their designation.

The public comment period on the new database ended Saturday, and the new rules could be finalized at any point. A spokesman for the department did not return a message from The Daily Line on Friday seeking comment.

The changes proposed by CPD do not go far enough, Ferguson said.

The department’s proposed appeals process “has substantive barriers and no additional protections for juveniles,” according to Ferguson’s audit.

Officers would orally inform people they are being included in the gang database under the police department’s plan, Ferguson said. To appeal that decision, they would have to go to police headquarters between 8 a.m. and noon on a weekday, Ferguson said.

“A lot more is needed than that,” Ferguson said while unveiling his audit. “There needs to be more rigor.”

Approximately 95 percent of the at least 134,242 Chicagoans listed as gang members by the Chicago Police Department are black or Latino, according to Ferguson’s audit.

CPD used 18 different methods to track members of Chicago’s gangs in the past 10 years and officials were “not able to definitively account for all such information in its possession and control,” Ferguson found.

“The coupling of a lack of controls with the absence of procedural fairness protections inhibits the department’s ability to assure the accuracy of its information, and potentially undermines public confidence in the department’s legitimacy and effectiveness in the service of its public safety mission,” the audit concluded.

Ferguson called on members of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee to hold hearings on the police department’s use of the gang database, which he said contained “overbroad and inaccurate” information, and said it was a “good question” whether the police department should even operate one.

More than 500 external agencies have access to the department’s gang databases, according to the audit.

According to the department, individuals can be entered into the database when they admit to gang affiliation, wear or use gang emblems, tattoos, hand signals or other symbols or are identified by an officer “with special intelligence” on gangs.

Department officials cannot confirm those designations “are based on reliable evidence” and ensure that the data “serves a legitimate law enforcement purpose,” the IG’s audit said.

The ACLU has also called on Chicago police to immediately stop sharing information with federal immigration officials, and echoed the audit’s call for aldermen to amend Chicago’s sanctuary city ordinance to remove exceptions for those listed in a gang database.

The youngest person designated by the Chicago Police Department was 9 years old — and has been in the database for 19 years, according to the audit. The oldest person designated as a gang member was 75 years old — and has been in the database for 10 years, according to the audit.

Lightfoot has called for the gang database to be replaced and “strict guidelines” imposed to ensure “it only includes intelligence collected from real, credible police investigations and is regularly audited to make sure that the information remains relevant and credible.”

The police department should not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and criteria for including individuals in the database should be determined by a public process, Lightfoot said.