Chicago police gang database criticized for inaccuracies

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department plans to make changes to its gang member database following criticism that it’s often inaccurate, outdated and racially skewed. The Chicago Tribune obtained police records through a Freedom of Information Act request that shows the database features 128,000 names, not including juveniles.

Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson has held three public hearings regarding the database as part of an audit into how police gather data on gang members. The state Senate Public Health Committee has also heard from advocates seeking the elimination of the database.

“We don’t know how it operates,” Rachel Murphy, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said at a recent hearing. “We are really concerned about transparency.”

Officers are instructed to document the known gang affiliation of those they arrest or stop in the street. Distinctive tattoos, information from informants and admissions from those arrested or stopped can lead to the designation.

The criteria are too broad and the database would be more useful if it was limited to listing individuals who commit gang-related crimes, critics said. The list also seems to unfairly target African-Americans and Hispanics, who account for 95 percent of the database.

People aren’t notified if they’re added to the list and can’t dispute their inclusion, critics said. Much of the information is also decades old.

The database is shared with other law enforcement agencies and could potentially lead to larger bail amounts or heftier sentences.

The department plans to make changes to how people are added to the database and create “explicit parameters,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman. Those added to the list will now be notified and allowed to appeal the designation, he said.

The data will no longer be shared with law enforcement agencies directly, though they will still have access to Chicago police arrest data.

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