Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Armed With Data, Chicago Police Try to Predict Who May Shoot or Be Shot

[This is "Minority Report" but without "Pre-Cogs" or psychics or predictions of murder. It cannot predict crimes, only the probability of a person perpetrating or being a victim of a crime. Of course, civil liberty organisations are concerned that this is just another disguised profiling or racism.] 


The New York Times
MAY 23, 2016

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 soon to be shot or to shoot someone. Shaquon Thomas was on it.

His first arrest came at 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, was wounded in a shooting, the police say. Then last May, Mr. Thomas, 19, was fatally shot in what the police say 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.

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 the department’s “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 for 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 that 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. While hundreds of thousands of people qualify as having a score that makes the list, the police have limited their focus to a far smaller group with scores in the mid-200s and above.

“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 is an essential tool for the police as they race to tamp down the bloodshed here, and that it allows them to focus on a small fraction of people creating chaos in the city rather than unfairly and ineffectively blanketing whole neighborhoods or sides of town. 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 in 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.”

Attention to the list comes at a pivotal moment for the city, as it tries to calm residents’ worries about mounting violence while it simultaneously tries to rebuild community relations with the police after years of distrust that 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.

A few years ago, with grant money from the National Institute of Justice, the Chicago police began creating the Strategic Subject List, and they view it as in keeping with findings by Andrew Papachristos, a sociologist at Yale, who said that the city’s homicides are concentrated within a relatively small number of social networks that represent only 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, in order to predict who is most likely to become a “party to violence.” The police cite proprietary technology as the reason they will not make public exactly what the 10 variables used to create the list are, but that some examples of them include 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 says the model intentionally avoids using as variables factors that could discriminate in some way; it excludes considerations like race, gender, ethnicity and geography, he said.

“The model just makes suggestions,” said Jonathan H. Lewin, deputy chief of the Chicago Police Department’s technology and records group. “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, the police, 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 officials this year are stepping up those visits, with at least 1,000 more people.

The message during these visits — with individuals on the list and with their families, girlfriends, mothers — is blunt: That person is on the police 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 individuals they have succeeded in talking to have sought assistance, and that fewer than 9 percent of the people they talked to have been shot since a home visit. A juvenile who has a high score on the list and who was visited last week as part of a custom notification 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 is slowing crime, and he questioned whether involving police officers in home visits would really lead people to walk away from gangs. “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 say, 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 say Shaquon Thomas was scheduled to get a visit — one of the custom notifications — but he died before it could take place.

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