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Is The City of Chicago Using Technology to Racially Profile Residents?


When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel’s home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood well known for bloodshed on its streets, he hadn’t committed a crime or interacted with a police officer recently. And he didn’t have a violent criminal record, nor any gun violations. In August, he incredulously told the Chicago Tribune, “I haven’t done nothing that the next kid growing up hadn’t done.” Yet, there stood the police commander at his front door with a stern message: If you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We’re watching you.

What McDaniel didn’t know was that he had been placed on the city’s “heat list” — an index of the roughly 400 people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime. Inspired by a Yale sociologist’s studies and compiled using an algorithm created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the heat list is just one example of the experiments the CPD is conducting as it attempts to push policing into the 21st century.

Predictive analytical systems have been tested by police departments all over the country for years now, but there’s perhaps no urban police force that’s further along — or better funded — than the CPD in its quest to predict crime before it happens. As Commander Jonathan Lewin, who’s in charge of information technology for the CPD, told The Verge: “This [program] will become a national best practice. This will inform police departments around the country and around the world on how best to utilize predictive policing to solve problems. This is about saving lives.”

But the jury’s still out about whether Chicago’s heat list and its other predictive policing experiments are worth the invasions of privacy they might cause and the unfair profiling they could blatantly encourage. As Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Verge: “My fear is that these programs are creating an environment where police can show up at anyone’s door at any time for any reason.”

There are a couple obvious worries here. “First of all, how are we deciding who gets on the list and who decides who gets on the list?” Fakhoury asks. The case of Robert McDaniel worries him. “Are people ending up on this list simply because they live in a crappy part of town and know people who have been troublemakers?” Answers to those questions need to be public, he says.

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4 thoughts on “Is The City of Chicago Using Technology to Racially Profile Residents?

  1. Scosha Moe says:

    Minority Report… Tom Cruise

  2. Dan Lee says:

    As a long time Chicago resident, I have NO problem with this type of "profiling" IF these 400 people have been involved in large numbers of violent crime. After all guess who most of those crimes are being committed against?

  3. St Abdur-Raheem says:

    I'm going to get in trouble from my black folks for what I'm about to say but I have to say this. I've been a student of medicine and worked in healthcare for well over 30 years ( mostly triage and trauma units )and we meaning the medical community also do statistics and what I have found that well of 94% of all violent crimes against black people are cause by black people . So my question is should we be focusing on stopping black crime instead of the occasional headlines of some white person killing one of us? It's starting to seem like just A way to sell newspapers The real tragedy seems to be in our own backyard. I've even heard some brothers say in the ER and I quote " I shot that nigger that's right" now if a white person said that our so call black leaders would be all over that …………So I'm all for profiling some of these animals disguise as humans. And single ing them out just because they're black shouldn't be a factor we should be after justice

  4. Don't be ignorant.

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