Chicago Police Try to Predict Who May Shoot or Be Shot

Chicago Police Try to Predict Who May Shoot or Be Shot


Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Department superintendent. “We know we have a lot of violence in Chicago, but we also know there’s a small segment that’s driving this stuff,” he said in a recent interview. CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

CHICAGO — In this city’s urgent push to rein in gun and gang violence, the Police Department is keeping a list. Derived from a computer algorithm that assigns scores based on arrests, shootings, affiliations with gang members and other variables, the list aims to predict who is most likely to be shot soon or to shoot someone. Shaquon Thomas was on it.

His first arrest came at age 13, and others quickly followed, his face maturing in a progression of mug shots. By 18, Mr. Thomas, who was known as the rapper Young Pappy, had been wounded in a shooting, the police said. Then, last May, Mr. Thomas, 19, was fatally shot in what the police said was a running gang feud. His score was more than 500, putting him near the top of the Chicago Police Department’s list.

“We know we have a lot of violence in Chicago, but we also know there’s a small segment that’s driving this stuff,” Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, said in a recent interview.
The authorities hope that knowing who is most likely to be involved in violence can bring them a step closer to curtailing it. They are warning those highest on the list that they are under intense scrutiny, while offering social services to those who want a path away from the bloodshed.

About three years into the program and on a fourth revision of the computer algorithm that generates the list, critics are raising pointed questions about potential breaches to civil liberties in the creation of such a ranking. And the list’s efficacy remains in doubt, as killings and shootings have continued to rise this year.

In a city of 2.7 million people, about 1,400 are responsible for much of the violence, Mr. Johnson said, and all of them are on what the department calls its Strategic Subject List.
So far this year, more than 70 percent of the people who have been shot in Chicago were on the list, according to the police, as were more than 80 percent of those arrested in connection with shootings.
In a broad drug and gang raid carried out last week amid a disturbing uptick this year in shootings and murders, the Police Department said 117 of the 140 people arrested were on the list.
And in one recent report on homicides and shootings over a two-day stretch, nearly everyone involved was on the list.

“We are targeting the correct individuals,” Mr. Johnson said. “We just need our judicial partners and our state legislators to hold these people accountable.”

Many government agencies and private entities are using data to try to predict outcomes, and local law enforcement organizations are increasingly testing such algorithms to fight crime. The computer model in Chicago, though, is uniquely framed around this city’s particular problems: a large number of splintered gangs; an ever younger set of gang members, according to the police; and a rash of gun violence that is connected to acts of retaliation between gangs.

Supporters of Chicago’s list say that it allows the police to focus on a small fraction of people creating chaos in the city rather than unfairly and ineffectively blanketing whole neighborhoods. But critics wonder whether there is value in predicting who is likely to shoot or be shot with seemingly little ability to prevent it, and they question the fairness and legality of creating a list of people deemed likely to commit crimes at some future time.

“We’re concerned about this,” said Karen Sheley, the director of the Police Practices Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “There’s a database of citizens built on unknown factors, and there’s no way for people to challenge being on the list. How do you get on the list in the first place? We think it’s dangerous to single out somebody based on secret police information.”
Photo
Guns that were confiscated last week during a drug and gang raid in Chicago.CreditJoshua Lott for The New York Times

The city is trying both to calm residents’ worries about mounting violence and to rebuild community relations with the police after years of distrust, which boiled over with the release of a video six months ago showing a black teenager named Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a white police officer.
The Chicago police, which began creating the Strategic Subject List a few years ago, said they viewed it as in keeping with findings by Andrew Papachristos, a sociologist at Yale, who said that the city’s homicides were concentrated within a relatively small number of social networks that represent a fraction of the population in high-crime neighborhoods.

Miles Wernick, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, created the algorithm. It draws, the police say, on variables tied to a person’s past behavior, particularly arrests and convictions, to predict who is most likely to become a “party to violence.”

The police cited proprietary technology as the reason they would not make public the 10 variables used to create the list, but they said that some examples were questions like: Have you been shot before? Is your “trend line” for crimes increasing or decreasing? Do you have an arrest for weapons?
Dr. Wernick said the model intentionally avoided using variables that could discriminate in some way, like race, gender, ethnicity and geography.

Jonathan H. Lewin, the deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department’s technology and records group, said: “This is not designed to replace the human process. This is just designed to inform it.”
The police have been using the list, in part, to choose individuals for visits, known as custom notifications. Over the past three years, police officers, social workers and community leaders have gone to the homes of more than 1,300 people with high numbers on the list. Mr. Johnson, the police superintendent, said that officials were increasing those visits this year, adding at least 1,000 people.
During these visits — with those on the list and with their families, girlfriends and mothers — the police bluntly warn that the person is on the department’s radar. Social workers who visit offer ways out of gangs, including drug treatment programs, housing and job training.

“We let you know that we know what’s going on,” said Christopher Mallette, the executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, a leader in the effort. “You know why we’re here. We don’t want you to get killed.”

Uncertain, for now, is the effectiveness. The RAND Corporation is evaluating the city’s list, but results are yet to be published. Mr. Mallette said that 21 percent of the people they had succeeded in talking to had sought assistance, and that fewer than 9 percent had been shot since a home visit.
A juvenile who has a high score on the list and who was visited last week was shot in the leg and injured on Sunday, the police said. They said he did not answer the door last week when the group went to his home.

Arthur J. Lurigio, a professor of psychology and criminology at Loyola University Chicago, said there was little evidence to date that the approach was slowing crime. “This is a first step,” he said, “but now, figuring what to do with that list — that’s another thing.”
A police computer dashboard of the Strategic Subject List gives a glimpse of the arc of each person on it. Shaquon Thomas’s entry went on and on: 23 arrests, the police said, mostly for misdemeanors, then the shootings.

“When people think we’re profiling or targeting, it’s not true,” said Mr. Johnson, who was an officer here for decades before being appointed this year to succeed the superintendent in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald video. “It has nothing to do with your race, your background. It’s just all about the contacts you have with law enforcement.”

The police said Shaquon Thomas was scheduled to receive a visit — one of the custom notifications — but he died before it could take place.


Source: The New York Times