As Murders Rise, Does Chicago Suspect Database Work?

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Three years ago, the Chicago Police Department began compiling a database of people it deemed to be at risk of killing or being killed. Individuals in the database started receiving unannounced visits by law enforcement officials, sometimes accompanied by community activists and clergy, doing a well-being check of the proactive kind, says the Chicago Tribune in an editorial. Even as the gentler intervention strategy known as “custom notifications” has rolled out, police still conduct raids, rounding up hundreds of suspects to get them off the streets for a limited stretch of time. Since May, more than 225 people have been arrested in roundups. Only about three dozen of them were not on the list of subjects identified by police as likely to kill or be killed. With violent crime persistent, questions arise about the effectiveness and constitutionality of the “strategic subject list” and subsequent outreach.

Chicago remains at the epicenter of a national debate on violent crime, routinely singled out as one of the most dangerous cities. Homicides in Chicago this year could top 600 if the pace set so far continues. That would be up from 468 in 2015 and 416 in 2014. The numbers are going in the wrong direction.Civil rights groups and criminal justice experts have questioned how the police determined whom to place on the list and how the subjects are scored. The department won’t say how many people are in the database but that the focus is on 1,400 individuals considered most at risk. “Until they show us the algorithm and the exhaustive factors of what goes into the algorithm, the public should be concerned about whether the program further replicates racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” Adam Schwartz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Tribune says Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Johnson, should share more information about this tool, commenting, “A hearty “Trust us” isn’t good enough.”

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