Yesha Callahan

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


Tuesday afternoon, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy announced  the expansion of an initiative to combat gang violence in the city.

The program is called “Custom Notifications.” During the first phase of the program that started in July, police visited the homes of suspected gang members and victims when there was a spike of violence in the area. During the visits, the police would have conversations with family members in order to suss out information. But they also offered conflict resolution advise so gang members wouldn’t retaliate as well as information on  health care and job placement services.

Now that the program has officially expanded, it will be used to intervene in active conflicts that are happening in real time. Chicago officials are now crediting the program with reducing violence in the districts it’s been used thus far. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that none of the 50 people visited so far have been arrested for a violent felony since their visit.

But not everyone is pleased with the program.

From The Verge:

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?”

“We are living in a time when information is easily shareable and easily accessible,” Fakhoury says. “So, let’s say we know that someone is connected to another person who was arrested. Or, let’s say we know that someone’s been arrested in the past. Is it fair to take advantage of that information? Are we just perpetuating the problem?” He continues: “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? If so, are we just closing ourselves off to this small subset of people?”


Wernick denies that IIT’s algorithm uses “any racial, neighborhood, or other such information” to assist in compiling the heat list. The Verge filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CPD to obtain the heat list itself and attempt to use that list as a way to independently answer some of Fakhoury’s questions. The request was denied because sharing that information could “endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel or any other person,” according to a letter from the CPD’s Office of Legal Affairs. The Verge is appealing the decision.

In the meantime, Dr. Wernick assures The Verge that the CPD’s predictive program isn’t taking advantage of — or unfairly profiling — any specific group. “The novelty of our approach,” he says, “is that we are attempting to evaluate the risk of violence in an unbiased, quantitative way.” He continues: “This is accomplished in a similar manner to how the medical field has identified statistically that smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer. Of course, everybody who smokes doesn’t get lung cancer, but it demonstrably increases the risk dramatically. The same is true of violent crime.”

In a shocking statement from Fox News-Latino, they actually referred to the initiative as  “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.”

But is it really racial profiling, when the highest areas of crime in Chicago, according to data, happen to be the black neighborhoods? One has to wonder, if this is a  means to an end, or a tactic that could lead to those being suspected of crimes just because they can’t afford to live any where else.


  1. February 26, 2014 - Reply

    As a Sociologist who is well aware of systemic problems that prevent the underprivileged from succeeding and a Chicago resident…I support this. It’s about time that someone did something.

  2. February 27, 2014 - Reply

    “The Chicago Sun-Times reports that none of the 50 people visited so far have been arrested for a violent felony since their visit.”

    what does that even prove? either they were never gonna be arrested b/c they targeted 50 random folks or they just ain’t had enough time to get into something b/c even criminals take a break from doing wrong… i don’t really get what their doing. i’m confused

  3. February 27, 2014 - Reply

    As a black man who has been stopped for no reason countless times yet never arrested, I am no fan of racial profiling. That’s treating people like animals. Having said that though, um…the black community of Chicago has issues.

  4. March 3, 2014 - Reply

    As a Depaul grad I love the whole stop and frisk in Chicago. I have family in Hyde Park and a few friends from undergrad that are from chicago. I love the officers actually giving a damn and want to stop crime. I live in downtown Chicago anyway. So they can arrest all the cheif keefers in chicago I wouldn’t care.

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