Cook County board votes to permanently dismantle gang database

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Commissioner Alma Anaya addresses an ordinance on the Cook County Sheriff Office’s gang database. | Troy Closson/For the Sun-Times

The Cook County Board voted to destroy the county’s gang database Thursday, setting legal steps and guidelines to make sure the database can’t be restarted.

The vote was the death knell for the contentious database, also called the Regional Gang Intelligence Database. Last month, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office announced it had “terminated” the database, a decision that came after no other law enforcement agency agreed to host it.

The ordinance, which takes effect immediately, prohibits the Cook County Sheriff’s Office from maintaining, re-creating or sharing information on the database. It also mandates the sheriff’s office to “enact the final destruction” of the tool.

Though the tool was terminated, Commissioner Alma Anaya, D-Chicago, said that wasn’t enough.

“We needed it in writing,” Anaya said. “I think that the decommissioning that [Sheriff Tom Dart] pushed for was a great first step, but we still needed all of these other steps and all of these assurances that the community groups really wanted.”

One of those steps will be a public hearing within the next 90 days. At that meeting, Anaya says community members, organizers and others will try to develop a long term plan.

Victoria Moreno, Anaya’s policy director, said it may be difficult for people on the database to find out how it was used and if they were on it since the sheriff’s office terminated the tool.

The hearing, as well as a pending audit by the county’s Office of the Independent Inspector General, will help determine next steps like if there can be a notification and appeals process for those on the list.

Cara Smith, Dart’s chief policy adviser, said the database is offline and in a secure location. She said it will be destroyed as soon as the Cook County Local Records Commission approves its destruction, which could be within a year.

As of July, the database contained the names of 25,000 people suspected of being affiliated with more than 400 gangs and gang factions. More than 400 people in the database were listed as dead and 150 others had a gang listing of “unknown” or “null,” according to a report by ProPublica Illinois.

Carlos Ballesteros contributed to this report.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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