Police Gang Databases Under Fire In Statehouse Bill

May 14, 2018

Illinois legislators are taking up a measure to change the way police gather information for gang databases. It comes after more than a year of controversy surrounding the Chicago Police Department’s data collection practices.


For decades, the Chicago Police Department has kept a running list of people believed to be in one of the city’s gangs. But in the last year, questions have been raised about how the Department goes about adding names. An investigation by ProPublica Illinois showed CPD’s database is riddled with dubious and racially-skewed entries.

State Senator Patricia Van Pelt, a Chicago Democrat, says thousands of black men in their 20s are in the gang database. Many were added without warning, and that info shows up in a background check.

“If they are on that list and they have no way of getting off the list, they have no appeals process, it really tears at the fabric of the community because it can destroy people’s future.”

Records obtained by ProPublica Illinois revealed some 128,000 adults are in that database now, 70% of whom are black or 25% of whom are Latino. 11.5% of those adults are 50 years old or older, a few were listed as more than 100 years old.

State Senator Jacqui Collins (D, Chicago) is supporting the legislation. She says someone can be added to the list for something as simple as not showing up to school.

“We want to ensure police have the tools they need to fight crime, but a poorly-kept database is a blunt and ineffective tool that opens the door for many civil rights abuses,” she explained.

Sen. Van Pelt’s bill would change that, requiring the state police to inform people if they’re added to a gang database, and allow them to appeal if they believed they've been wrongly added.

The Chicago Police Department says the measure is reasonable and has pledged to make changes.