Police superintendent defends use of secret watch list

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Police Supt. Eddie Johnson

Chicago’s top cop on Friday defended the department’s use of a secret watch list to track people deemed likely to get caught up in violence, saying many of them have “gotten out of that lifestyle.”

But police Supt. Eddie Johnson backed away from previous department statements that the list is used for “enforcement.”

“It’s not a list of target people,” Johnson said after a recruit graduation ceremony. “We don’t use the list for any enforcement actions.”

“It’s just a list that lets us know who would be more prone to gun violence — either by being a victim or a perpetrator. The individuals identified with the algorithm — we simply use it to go provide them and offer other pathways to get out of that lifestyle.”

Johnson said the list is working because some people on it have accepted offers of social services after being approached by police and outreach workers.

“We’ve had quite a few individuals that have taken us up on it, and they’ve gotten out of that lifestyle,” he said.

In the past, the department said the list was used for “enforcement” but didn’t say how.

Last year, Johnson repeatedly said the list contained 1,400 people who were driving the violence in the city and that the department was “targeting” them.

Also last year, the department released a statement saying the list was used to “target these individuals in enforcement activity or offer them an opportunity to lead a life outside of violence.”

After Johnson’s comments Friday, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the list doesn’t give officers a reason to arrest anyone. “There needs to be a violation of the law,” he said.

Instead, the list is used as a tool to figure out where cops should be deployed in certain neighborhoods, Guglielmi said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that the database includes nearly 400,000 people — a far more extensive list than what the police previously described.

Half of the 153 people with the highest “risk” score had never been arrested for illegal gun possession, and 20 had never been arrested for gun possession or a violent crime.

Hundreds of people near the top of the list had no arrests for violent offenses, guns or drugs. But many of those people were victims of violence themselves.

The department provided the Sun-Times with a copy of the list after a legal battle. It shows the factors used to generate the risk scores, such as the number of times each person was shot and their arrests for violent crimes, gun possession and drug offenses.

But the department has refused to disclose the way those factors were weighted to calculate the risk scores or the names of those on the list.

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