The Chicago Police Sued by Journalists for ‘Heat List’ used for Predictive Policing


The Minority Report is real.  Every day officers have software that gives them a predictive indicator of who is likely to commit a crime.

A project known as “heat list” or the Strategic Subject List is a secret algorithm that reportedly “contains the names of over a thousand people at any given time.”

Journalists in Chicago sued the city of Chicago for refusing to release the records that may reveal how officers produce the computerized predictions on who will likely engage in gun violence.  The Rand Corporation published a study in 2016 that found individuals on the list were not “more or less likely to become a victim of a homicide or shooting.”  It very probable that the names on the list have an increased chance of arrest because they are the names officers are using to close shooting cases.

George Joseph, Jamie Kalven, and Brandon Smith, all journalists, submitted a freedom of information request under the Illinois law in 2016.  Records on the algorithm and how it determines who makes it on the Strategic Subject List were requested by Kalven.  Kalven also asked the manual or guides on how the use of the interface employed to list people.

Smith requested records that would reveal the secret algorithm underpinning a component of predictive policing used by the Chicago Police.  He wanted data that showed the risk scores of all the people on the list in the first two years of regular use or non-test use.  Smith also wanted to know if the first 5,000 individuals were charged with new crimes within the two years following their inclusion.

The CPD denied Smith’s request for information; they also denied Kalven’s request.

In a statement, Smith said:

“As some of my friends would say, poverty along race lines is not an accident. It didn’t happen “naturally.” If you believe that, that’s literally the definition of racism.

Since its inception, America has thrown a grotesque percentage, comparably, of people of color into a criminal system that destabilizes the communities where those people live, and brands for life those were in it and exit. This is not my opinion; it’s well-reported at The Marshall Project and by ProPublica, whose reports on police algorithms inspired my FOIA request last summer that led to this suit.

It’s my goal to find and discuss the mechanism by which this inequality of opportunity is carried out and perpetuated. This is the journalism of democracy—discovering why some well-defined groups of people, as opposed to random folks here and there, don’t get a fair shot at health, wealth, and happiness.


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