Aldermen, community activists demand that CPD abolish — not reform — gang database

Skeptics include Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), a former Chicago Police officer, who said he doesn’t know “whether we’ll be able to sell the use of the gang database” after all of the abuses.

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Protesters descended on City Hall on Thursday to decry the Chicago Police Department’s use of a gang database and demand its removal.

Protesters descended on City Hall Thursday to decry the Chicago Police Department’s use of a gang database and demand its removal. CPD said its Criminal Enterprise Information System, launching in the next six to 12 months, is intended to ultimately replace the department’s existing gang database, which has been criticized as ineffective, inaccurate and outdated.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Aldermen and community activists on Thursday denounced the Chicago Police Department’s plan to upgrade and remodel its error-filled gang database and demanded that it be abolished entirely.

“I don’t know whether we’ll be able to sell the use of the gang database after all the discrepancies that have been reported with it. Not just discrepancies, but the abuses,” said Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), the former Chicago Police officer now chairing the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety.

“It’s the same fight that we fought with the Laquan McDonald shooting. People become less and less trusting of police officers and the Chicago Police Department when we’re trying to build that trust. This gang database — the continued use of it — may not facilitate the growth in that relationship.”

Interim Police Superintendent Charlie Beck has unveiled a series of safeguards intended to eliminate myriad problems that spurred a federal lawsuit and were subsequently outlined in detail by Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

They include strict criteria and a “multi-level process” before anyone is added to the database, an appeals process overseen by the Police Board to get off of it and automatic removal of persons who have had no contact with law enforcement for a period of five years.

Beck also promised “only bona fide law enforcement partners” would have access to the new list and Chicago Police officers will have access only “when they’re involved in a criminal investigation.”

None of that was good enough to satisfy the activists who gathered at City Hall Thursday. They simply don’t trust the same Chicago Police Department that got it wrong the first time to get it right the second time.

Protesters descended on City Hall Thursday to decry the Chicago Police Department’s use of a gang database and demand its removal. CPD said its Criminal Enterprise Information System, launching in the next six to 12 months and is is intended to ultimately replace the department’s existing gang database, which has been criticized as ineffective, inaccurate and outdated.

Protesters descended on City Hall Thursday to decry the Chicago Police Department’s use of a gang database and demand its removal. CPD said its Criminal Enterprise Information System, launching in the next six to 12 months, is intended to ultimately replace the department’s existing gang database, which has been criticized as ineffective, inaccurate and outdated.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“We don’t need a new gang database. What we need it to eliminate the existing one and hold the Chicago Police Department accountable for the damages that existing gang database has created in our communities of color in Chicago,” said Antonio Gutierrez of Organized Communities Against Deportations.

When CPD opened up the issue for public comment, 86 percent of respondents favored abolishing the gang database altogether, Gutierrez said. The department ignored those comments and forged ahead, increasing distrust, he said.

“What we’re afraid of is that the new gang database will be used — again — to criminalize people of color and racial profile people into the mass incarceration system,” he said.

“We also don’t trust that it won’t be shared with other parties. … What is there to guarantee that it won’t be shared with agencies like ICE, that then use this information to go arrest and detain individuals and put them into deportation proceedings?”

Andrea Ortiz of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council was not appeased by the promised appeals process overseen by the Police Board.

“That takes a lot of energy and time. If they’re working two jobs and have a family, they don’t have the time to call off of work or go out of their way to appeal off a list they shouldn’t have been placed on in the first place. It’s a waste of energy,” Ortiz said.

Ald. Andre Vazquez (40th) said he “respects” the effort that went into reforming the gang database and establishing strict criteria.

But he argued that no amount of reform could correct the inequities laid bare last year in a blistering report by Inspector General Joe Ferguson.

“We saw stuff with no corroboration at all. No one even said they were part of a gang. The list included people who were between 8 and 80 years old. It was horribly bad. Beyond reform,” Vazquez said.

“To have faith in the same people who messed it up the first time is a step too far. We don’t have that level of faith. Nor can we afford to have it because peoples’ lives are on the line.”

Taliaferro said he remains concerned “outside units which we have no control over” could access the new gang database and “use it for immigration purposes or any other abusive purpose.”

At the very least, he wants the appeals process for removing names from a gang database to be handled by a civilian police review board — not by the Police Board.

“The Police Board may hear cases down the line when it comes to officer discipline that may be because of abuse of the database system. Wouldn’t that be perceived as a conflict?” he said.

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