City Council Grants Police Board Power to Remove Chicagoans from Yet-To-Be Finalized Gang Database

The Chicago City Council voted 29-18 on Wednesday to grant the Chicago Police Board the power to overrule the Chicago Police Department and remove a Chicagoan from its gang database — even though the rules governing the under-development system have yet to be finalized.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) led the push to block a vote on the measure in October, saying he and other alderpeople opposed giving the Police Board new powers when it is not clear how the new database will operate — especially in light of the fact that the old system was riddled with errors, ripe for abuse and disproportionately targeted Black and Latino Chicagoans, according to an April 2019 audit by the city’s inspector general.

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A follow-up audit released in March by the inspector general found that the Chicago Police Department “continues to collect and rely upon data that it has acknowledged is seriously flawed.” Chicago Police brass told alderpeople during a July City Council committee hearing that the database was a crucial tool in the fight against violent crime sweeping the city.

After being delayed for months, Chicago Police officials released on Friday a 10-page draft of a new policy that would govern the new gang database, dubbed the Criminal Enterprise Information System, that requires officers to have “specific, documented and reliable information” obtained within five years before including a Chicagoan in the database.

Chicagoans have until Nov. 29 to weigh in on the new policy for the gang database. After that, the Police Department could finalize the system.

Speaking from the rostrum during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot encouraged alderpeople to approve the proposal and make sure that those listed in the gang database had a way to appeal their inclusion in the new database, saying there had been a “fulsome” debate over the matter.

Public Safety Committee Chair Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) said the process for appeals could move forward at the same time as the department’s policy for the gang database.

“This is backward,” Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) said.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), a close ally of the mayor, said she voted for the measure giving the Police Board the power to remove someone from the database after getting a commitment from the mayor’s office that those listed in the database would be notified of their inclusion — and told how to appeal their designation as a member of a gang in Chicago.

“There is a commitment to put those pieces in place,” Dowell told WTTW News.

However, Lightfoot declined to commit to adding that provision to the policy governing the gang database during her news conference after the City Council meeting.

The policy, as proposed, would only allow Chicagoans to find out if they have been included in the database by going to police headquarters, one of five district police stations or Chicago city clerk offices. Parents of teens included in the database could appeal on their behalf. The Police Department would have 90 days to respond. 

“If changes need to be made, we’ll make the changes,” Lightfoot said.

People can also be added to the database if two or more additional criteria are reached, including wearing clothing with gang emblems, having a tattoo of a gang insignia or being referred to as a gang member in the court record of a criminal charge, according to the policy.

Those listed in the database must be removed after five years if they no longer qualify for inclusion in the system, according to the policy.

Those standards were crafted to resolve a class-action lawsuit that alleged the city’s gang database was riddled with errors and ripe for abuse.

That settlement also requires the police department to conduct an annual review and publish data about those added to the new database and tagged as gang members, including their age, race and reason for inclusion, according to court records.

In addition, the database will only be allowed to be used by the police department. All data will be off limits to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, schools, licensing agencies and housing agencies, according to the policy.

Lightfoot’s 2019 campaign platform promised to replace the existing databases “and impose strict guidelines for operating and maintaining any replacement database so it only includes intelligence collected from real, credible police investigations and is regularly audited to make sure that the information remains relevant and credible.”

Lightfoot moved in July 2019 to permanently block agents for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency from accessing the database amid a rash of threats from President Donald Trump to conduct raids in Chicago and other cities nationwide in an effort to deport undocumented immigrants.

But Lightfoot has rejected calls for the city to abolish the databases entirely, saying there are “legitimate” reasons for the police department to maintain a list of gang members.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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