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Divided City Council authorizes Police Board to hear appeals to remove names from CPD’s soon-to-be revised gang database

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) argued that it makes no sense to consider appeals until the Criminal Enterprise Information System is revised.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) attends a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Friday afternoon, June 25, 2021. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) was among the 18 City Council members who voted against creating an appeals process before the police gang database was revised.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

A divided City Council on Wednesday empowered the Chicago Police Board to hear appeals from people who want their names removed from the gang database even though the Chicago Police Department has yet to replace the error-filled clearinghouse.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to get rid of the gang database and replace it with a mistake-free system that includes criteria for getting on the list and giving people a way get their names removed from the list.

On his way out the door, now-former Inspector General Joe Ferguson pointedly accused the mayor of failing to fulfill both promises.

“It’s been 2.5 years of promises made and promises not kept,” Ferguson told alderpersons at his final budget hearing.

“We’re still utilizing a system that we know and that IG reports have established is just not accurate and hangs over the lives of tens of thousands of Chicagoans, over 96% are Black- and Brown-skinned. We need to clean that up.”

Wednesday’s 29-18 vote begins the cleanup process that critics say is ill-timed.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) argued that it makes no sense to empower the Chicago Police Board to hear appeals until CPD releases its revised Criminal Enterprise Information System and clearly articulates the criteria for getting on that new list.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse. … We’re going on a wing and a prayer that we’re gonna figure out the front end while trying to fix the back end. That doesn’t work for me,” Lopez said.

“I do not support this process in which we are doing this backwards. Solving the problem before figuring out how you get on the list to begin with.”

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a four-hour subject matter hearing in July where “hundreds of questions were asked” about the new gang database and the appeals process. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy Lopez.

“The lists we’ve created up until this point are nets that catch way too many fish. For a list to be useful, it has to be narrow in scope. It has to have parameters to identify how people get on it so then, we can successfully create an appeals process that rectifies whatever has transpired for a person to get on that list. We don’t have that information right now,” he said.

South Side Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) agreed with Lopez.

“This is backwards. And the fact that we’re gonna fix it later is just bunk,” Hairston said.

“Since we know that there are problems, why not fix them? We always want to come in with the broom afterward sweeping it up. And it’s time that we do something different.”

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th), who used a parliamentary maneuver to stall the appeals ordinance at last month’s City Council meeting, added, “The latest I heard was that people that are gonna be on the database wouldn’t even be proactively informed that they are on the database.”

Speaking from the rostrum, Lightfoot promised “outreach through a variety of channels.”

Budget Committee Chairman Pat Dowell (3rd) told Lightfoot, “I take you at your word that this is gonna happen.”

The mayor replied, “It’s very important for us that we make sure that we notify people, educate them about the process and help them move through the process so that it’s a real opportunity to remove their names.”

Public Safety Committee Chairman Chris Taliaferro (29th) argued that the appeals ordinance and the soon-to-be-released gang database can easily “work in tandem” — and should.

“We have to allow our Chicago Police Board to begin putting procedures in place so that they can have an appeals process. … Right now, it’s not [in] their purview,” Taliaferro said.

“So, I ask that you support this ordinance to allow them to create the process for our residents … and at the same time allow our Chicago Police Department to continue putting the database together that we can all be proud of.”

Prior to the final vote, Lightfoot returned to her prosecutorial roots.

In rapid fire succession, she asked Taliaferro whether it was true that there had been a “fulsome hearing” on the issue; CPD had “completely changed the criteria” needed to get on the list to include “many, many identifiers of the person” and that, in order to get on the list, the name had to be approved by an “exempt member” of CPD — “not just a line police officer.”

Taliaferro answered “yes” to all of the mayor’s questions.

Joining Hairston, Lopez and Vasquez in voting “no” were Daniel LaSpata (1st); Brian Hopkins (2nd); Sophia King (4th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th); Edward Burke (14th); Stephanie Coleman (16th); Jeanette Taylor (20th); Michael Rodriguez (22nd); Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th); Roberto Maldonado (26th); Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd); Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); Matt Martin (47th); and Maria Hadden (49th).