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Cook County commissioners get earful about soon-to-be-destroyed gang database

Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times
by Stefano Esposito

Cook County commissioners get earful about soon-to-be-destroyed gang database

Activists spoke at the Cook County Board's Criminal Justice Committee hearing Tuesday, saying many unanswered questions remain about the Cook County Sheriff's Office's controversial gang database. | Facebook photo.

By Stefano Esposito

@slesposito | email

Good riddance — but not yet.

That seemed to be the message Tuesday from dozens of community activists, who applaud the decision to destroy the Cook County Sheriff’s Office’s controversial gang database but not before some key questions are answered.

“This rush to get rid of it is a way to protect themselves from public scrutiny and from being accountable,” Miguel Lopez, an organizer with Organized Communities Against Deportations, said during a public hearing of the Cook County Board’s Criminal Justice Committee. “There are still way too many questions, questions that the Cook County sheriff may never have the courage to honestly answer.”

One activist after another expressed frustration that neither Sheriff Tom Dart nor any of his representatives were at the hearing to talk about what the activists see as a flawed database that doesn’t prevent crime but creates fear and panic in the city’s minority communities.

“What is the sheriff afraid of?” Olivia Abrecht, a youth organizer with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said before the hearing.

At one point, Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims told the gathering: “We’re not the sheriff’s boss. . . . The sheriff is elected by the people.”

Cara Smith, Dart’s chief policy adviser, has said the database is offline and in a secure place.

The board on Tuesday read a letter from Bradley Curry, Dart’s chief of staff, who said that because the county’s inspector general is investigating the database “it would be inappropriate to engage in a hearing about the very issues being considered by IG [Patrick] Blanchard until the investigation is concluded.”

The board voted in February to destroy the county’s Regional Gang Intelligence Database. That ordinance prohibits the sheriff’s office from maintaining, recreating or sharing information on the database. It also mandates the sheriff’s office to “enact the final destruction” of the tool.

But that didn’t end the concerns. Activists say they’re worried about hundreds of local, state and federal agencies that might have downloaded information from the database and might be still using that information. They also want to know who is on the list so those people could potentially petition a judge to have their names removed.

Amy Campanelli, the Cook County public defender, told the board why she believes gang affiliation can be so damaging.

“When jurors hear the word, ‘gang,’ that triggers bias, dangerousness and a stereotype that the person must be guilty of the crime — just from the alleged association of being in a gang,” Campanelli said.

Hazel Crest Police Chief Mitchell Davis told the board that a gang database is “definitely an asset” for the police, but he said it needs to be assembled fairly.

“You can’t just tell me that black and brown folks are the only ones in gangs,” said Davis, who is African American.


Cook County board votes to permanently dismantle gang database
Unverified, outdated police gang database lists 134,000 names, watchdog says



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