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Chicago hasn’t yet found an effective tech tool for cutting murder rate

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Henryk Sadura/123RF
Predictive policing isn’t working in the Windy City. The Chicago Police Department’s Strategic Subject List is an algorithm-driven intervention tool intended to head off crime and reduce the number of homicides, but studies so far show no progress, according to The Verge.

Chicago is an incubator for new policing techniques, The Verge reports. For years the city has run experimental programs, trying to find the right solution or mix of solutions to reduce violent crime and cut the homicide rate.

In 2013, The CPD received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Justice for a new type of crime prevention. Originally called the “heat list” but later renamed the Strategic Subject List (SSL), the program uses algorithms to identify people likely to become involved in a shooting. The program was “created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology,” the Verge reported in 2014.

In addition to using arrest records, the program also added people socially connected to known shooters and shooting victims. In addition to just making a list, another part of the program was intervention, sending police officers with social workers from the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy group at John Jay College.

The thinking behind the intervention strategy was to have both law enforcement and people who could provide social services engage with people on the list.

“We want to show them the carrot and the stick,” said Christopher Mallette, executive director of the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy group. “We want them to know they can get help — but we also want them to know that if they don’t keep in line, there’s a jail cell waiting for them.”

At the time critics said it could just end up as another form of profiling.

A recently released Rand Corporation study (subscription required) showed that people on the list were not more or less likely to be victims — of shooting or a homicide — than a control group, but they were most likely to be arrested for a shooting. So in the end, it didn’t identify victims and it didn’t deter shooters.

The Rand report authors told The Verge that the SSL wasn’t being used as originally intended and that with up to 11 different programs going on in the CPD when the SSL was started, it “just got lost.”

The Chicago Police Department responded to the Rand report in a press release. The CPD said the study focused on an earlier version of the SSL, that “the prediction model discussed in the report is the very early, initial model (Version 1), developed in August 2012. We are now using Version 5, which is significantly improved.”

The CPD also said of the current version of the SSL, “which has since evolved greatly and has been fully integrated with the department’s management accountability process.”

Predictive policing expert and law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, Andrew G. Ferguson wrote in an email to The Verge, “Just creating a data-driven ‘most-wanted’ list misses the value of big data prediction. The ability to identify and proactively intervene in the lives of at-risk youth is a positive, but you have to commit to the intervention piece. Just directing police toward those individuals for traditional policing is not enough.”

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