Your NPR news source
Anthony Driver

Anthony Driver, the president of The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, sits with his fellow commissioners Beth Brown and Isaac Troncoso at the commission’s first meeting at Malcolm X College, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Is the Chicago Police gang database tactic an end run around the new accountability board?

Members of a new police accountability board, who met for the first time on Sept. 29, are worried Chicago police officials are already trying to do an end run around their authority.

The Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability was established after a decade of political organizing by Chicagoans angry about police violence. Among the board’s duties are the responsibility to approve by a majority vote all new police policies established by what’s known as a “General Order.”

So when police officials notified commissioners just one month after they took office that a controversial new gang database would be rolled out by the end of the month using a “Special Order,” they were alarmed.

“Even if it wasn’t intentional, it is a way to circumvent this commission,” said commission president Anthony Driver. “I don’t think it’s going to work.”

The move by CPD comes as the fledgling civilian oversight board seeks to establish its power to represent the wishes of citizens across the city on how the Police Department is run.

“The ordinance that created this commission calls for collaboration,” Driver said. “That’s not what’s currently happening.”

“We felt blindsided.”

The Chicago Police Department’s tracking of individuals allegedly affiliated with gangs has come under fire in recent years. Though CPD said it needs to collect the information to investigate crimes, previous iterations of gang data were riddled with errors and disproportionately targeted people of color, according to a report by the city’s top watchdog.

When the commission held its first meeting, Driver said vetting the newly proposed gang database was a top priority.

A week later, he said, the police department abruptly informed commissioners the policy would be implemented by the end of October, and that the commission would be briefed on it only a few days in advance.

Driver said he immediately asked the department to put the policy on hold.

A briefing with police officials was held, at which Driver said the vast majority of the commission’s questions went unanswered. And for the next three weeks, the commission repeatedly sought a meeting with CPD to discuss concerns over the policy without success.

Then, in early November, CPD notified the commission a draft of the policy would be made public until Dec. 7 and the database would go into effect shortly afterward.

“We felt blindsided,” Driver said. “At that point, we made the decision that if they’re not going to take a meeting with us, we’re going to have a hearing about this and compel them to come before the commission.”

That meeting took place on Nov. 28, where commission members grilled several CPD personnel on how the new database would differ from the old version. But despite repeated attempts, Driver couldn’t get an answer as to why CPD drafted the policy as a “Special Order,” which, unlike a “General Order,” falls outside the authority of the commission.

According to Robert Owens, with Chicago’s Office of Inspector General, early drafts of the gang data policy were created as general orders in 2020. Then, in November of 2021, it was reclassified as a “Special Order.”

Driver questioned the timing of this reclassification as the commission had been established by Chicago’s City Council just four months earlier in July of 2021.

In the meeting, Lt. Brian Kapustianyk struggled to explain to commissioners CPD’s motivation for the change.

“There was a lot of distinction between a lot of those drafts that we were revising, reforming and trying to get to the right place,” Kapustianyk said. “That is why it was designated a special order. That was a clean delineation that we were stopping the use of this older system.”

WBEZ sought clarification from the Police Department’s press office, but a spokesman did not answer questions about why the gang database was drafted as a special order. The office also did not address concerns the department is working around the new commission.

Commissioner and defense attorney Cliff Nellis said he wasn’t satisfied by CPD’s response.

Nellis also said it is counterintuitive of CPD to seek public input by posting the policy online for comment while disregarding the input of the commission.

“They are on one hand saying we want public comments,” Nellis said. “And on the other hand, how much authority do we have, as a body that is meant and designed to provide holistic, comprehensive, hyperlocal, community-level input into these practices?”

The battle over the gang database follows another perceived slight to the commission, where a report they drafted in early November that was critical of the proposed police budget went largely ignored.

The report found that “the Police Department is not using its budget effectively or equitably because it does not currently have a long-term, data-driven strategy to reduce violence.”

This, the commission found, “could put Chicagoans, especially those who live in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods, at greater risk of being injured or killed.”

Four days after that report was published, the City Council passed the proposed $1.94 billion police budget.

Given that the newly-formed commission’s authority is still being defined, Driver said some setbacks are to be expected. But he hopes the Police Department will be more collaborative moving forward.

“The only way Chicago can become safer is if we work together,” Driver said. “And by not providing information, and by not meeting with the commission until the very last minute, that has significantly hindered our ability to inform the public and to use our oversight authority to weigh in on these critical issues.”

Anna Savchenko covers criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow @annasavchenkoo

The Latest
The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence typically releases its annual report in October but was so alarmed by the findings, it decided to publish the 2023 report months earlier.
A Cook County judge has been told by an appeals court to reconsider whether Kimberlynn Bolanos was mentally fit when she entered a guilty plea in 2016. At a hearing Tuesday, the judge made arrangements for yet another mental evaluation.
Sonya Massey called 911 to report a potential prowler before being shot inside her home. Footage shows she was cowering and holding a pot when the deputy opened fire.
Residents and members of social justice groups join civil rights groups and the city watchdog in calling on the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the officers named in a probe into extremist groups.
Five lawsuits filed accuse the state police of having negligently approved Robert E. Crimo III’s gun ownership application in 2019 even though the Highland Park police issued a “clear and present danger” alert against him months earlier.