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Chicago's Controversial New Police Program Prompts Fears Of Racial Profiling

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A woman signs a makeshift memorial to three men who were shot and killed as police comb the South Shore neighborhood for clues to the crime on October 10, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
A woman signs a makeshift memorial to three men who were shot and killed as police comb the South Shore neighborhood for clues to the crime on October 10, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A controversial new policing strategy being touted by Chicago's top cop for helping reduce gang violence is raising questions over its possible racist implications.

On Tuesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy held a news conference to discuss his department's pilot program which, as McCarthy describes it, involves officers visiting the homes of individuals they identify as likely victims or perpetrators of crime almost immediately on the heels of violence erupting in their neighborhoods.

Those visited by officers as part of the program, which has been deployed so far in six predominantly black police districts on the city's West and South Sides, are offered social services such as job training to help them avoid a life of crime, McCarthy said Tuesday, according to NBC Chicago.

McCarthy is crediting the home visit strategy, which began last July, with reducing violence in the districts it's been used thus far. Further, none of the about 50 people visited so far have been arrested for a violent felony since the house call, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Each of the individuals visited appear on a "heat list" compiled by the police department. The list is part of a department-wide strategy that relies on a "rank-order list of potential victims and subjects with the greatest propensity for violence" based on data crunched using an algorithm developed by an Illinois Institute of Technology engineer.

Among the factors that would land an individual among the 400-plus Chicagoans currently on the list include, according to the department:

  • being a victim of a shooting incident but declining to cooperate with prosecuting the shooter,
  • being identified as a repeat offender for public violence crimes or
  • "other factors as developed and linked to public violence within the district."

The program is not without its detractors. The Verge published a story earlier this month questioning whether the strategy invades privacy and racially profiles people of color. One man who allegedly appeared on the heat list did not have a violent criminal record and was surprised by the visit he received.

"Are people ending up on this list simply because they live in a crappy part of town and know people who have been troublemakers?" Hanni Fakhoury, an Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney, told The Verge's Matt Stroud. "How many people of color are on this heat list? Is the list all black kids? Is this list all kids from Chicago’s South Side?"

Fox News Latino went so far as to refer to the initiative as an example of "high-tech racial profiling."

It’s one thing to predict where a crime is likely to happen,” Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, an assistant law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, told Fox, “but to predict who? That’s really your ‘Minority Report’ world.”

On the American Civil Liberties Union's "Free Future" blog, ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley also raised questions about how the "heat map" may "discriminate and stigmatize" those who are on it. Stanley continued:

"Overall, the key question is this: will being flagged by these systems lead to good things in a person’s life, like increased support, opportunities, and chances to escape crime—or bad things, such as surveillance and prejudicial encounters with the police?"

CPD, in response to the criticism, told the Verge the program doesn't unfairly profile any group of people.

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