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Activists want public hearings on Chicago Police gang database

The city’s inspector general has described the database as a hodgepodge of outdated, and often unverified, information.

A Chicago Police Department shoulder patch
A group of activists on Wednesday called for the City Council to hold public hearings about how the Chicago Police Department collects and stores information about gang affiliations.
Sun-Times File Photo

A group of activists on Wednesday called for the City Council to hold public hearings about how the Chicago Police Department collects and stores information about gang affiliations.

Hearings, they hope, would spur changes to the so-called “gang database” to ensure it does not include the names of people who have no gang ties and allow people who’ve been wrongly labeled the chance to clear their names.

“Right now, your only recourse is to file a lawsuit. There’s no established process to have your name removed,” said Sheila Bedi, an attorney representing several community groups that sued the city in federal court to force changes.

Bedi, speaking at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, said a federal judge told the sides to try to negotiate a settlement. Their next court date is Dec. 19.

A spokesman for the city’s law department declined to comment.

In April, the city’s inspector general, Joe Ferguson, released a report that described the police gang database as a hodgepodge of outdated, and often unverified, information.

Between January 1997 and November 2018, more than 134,000 people were designated as gang members by Chicago police, the report stated.

“These [gang member] designations may contribute to a variety of adverse consequences for individuals and communities in, among others, law enforcement, criminal justice, immigration and employment contexts,” Ferguson said in the report, adding the majority of those labeled gang members are African American or Hispanic men.

The Chicago Police Department, with a few exceptions, largely agreed with fixes recommended by Ferguson and signaled its intent to create and implement a new system to track gang membership in Chicago.

The department’s plans were suspended pending the resolution of the lawsuit, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Wednesday.

“We developed a proposal for an actual gang database. It would be called the Criminal Enterprise Database, and we were going to put it out for public comment, however, then the lawsuit came . . . so everything’s in a holding pattern right now,” he said.

The police department’s regular gang data collection and storage methods will remain in place in the interim, he said.