CHICAGO — Chicagoans soon could have an avenue to removing their names from the controversial gang database, even though a long-promised overhaul of those police records has yet to be completed.
City Council voted 29-18 Wednesday to approve an ordinance authorizing the Chicago Police Board to handle the appeals process for residents.
Currently, if someone wants their name removed from the database — riddled with errors like improbable ages and multiple birth dates, and where almost everyone is Black or Latinx — they must go through Chicago Police Department. If police officials deny the request, there is no recourse. The City Council vote means people will be able to appeal such a denial to the police board for review.
The rules to govern the appeals process, the amount of staff needed to handle the appeals and what criteria will be grounds to overturn a decision by the Police Department are all details that need to be worked out, Police Board officials previously told alderpeople during a committee meeting.
But the city will not inform residents that they are listed on the database. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said after the meeting officials are committed to doing “significant outreach” to let residents know “if you believe that you’re in there, go and find out and if so, then there’s a process for getting your name excluded from the database.”
“What got passed today is setting up a process so that it’s not the Police Department on its own that determines whether or not somebody is in or out, that there’s a more neutral process that will be run by the Chicago Police Board,” Lightfoot said.
The ordinance drew criticism from alderpeople concerned the city was putting “the cart before the horse.”
A 2019 report from the city’s top watchdog found the Police Department utilized 18 different forms and portals to maintain its list of suspected gang members, but the databases lacked oversight, didn’t inform individuals that they were on the list and wasn’t regularly audited for accuracy.
A follow-up report from Inspector General Joe Ferguson, released this spring, said the Police Department continues to utilize the gang database despite its flaws. Department leaders said at the time they would launch a new database with stricter guidelines on who is listed by September by blew through that deadline.
Last week, the Chicago Police Department quietly posted a draft of the new policy online, asking for public comment through Nov. 29th.
Several council members urged Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who brought the ordinance forward for a vote after it was blocked at a previous meeting, to delay the vote again until there is a thorough review of the policy changes. Taliaferro is a former police sergeant.
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) said we’re “going on a wing and a prayer that we’re going to fix the front end while we try to figure out the back end.”
“For a list to be useful, it has to be narrow in scope, it has to have parameters to identify how people get on it, so then we successfully create an appeals process that rectifies whatever transpired for a person to get on the list. We don’t have that information,” Lopez said.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) agreed the issue was being rushed toward approval.
“There is no reason this has to be passed today,” Hairston said. “We always want to come in with a broom afterwards sweeping it up. And it’s time that we do something different.”
Besides Lopez and Hairston, Alds. Daniel La Spata (1st), Brian Hopkins (2nd), Sophia King (4th), Rod Sawyer (6th), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Ed Burke (14th), Stephanie Coleman (16th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Sigcho Lopez (25th), Roberto Maldonado (26th), Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd), Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th) voted against the ordinance.
Others said the current version of the ordinance mitigated their initial concerns.
“I think it’s very important that people are alerted proactively, and affirmatively that they are on this database,” said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who voted yes. “I take you at your word that this is going to happen,” she told Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Ahead of the vote, Lightfoot insisted there had been a “fulsome discussion” about the ordinance. She also defended the draft changes to how the gang database operates, saying they were the result of significant coordination with community groups and with the attorneys of plaintiffs that previously sued the city over the gang database.
“We have to allow our Chicago Police Board to begin the process and begin to put procedures in place so that they can have an appeals process and so there’s nothing wrong with…” approving this “while our police department still continues to work on the criminal enterprise information system,” Taliaferro said.
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