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Algorithm to Predict Chicago Shootings Used by Police to Curb Violence

Image: Algorithm to Predict Chicago Shootings Used by Police to Curb Violence
In this Monday, July 7, 2014, file photo, Chicago police display some of the thousands of illegal firearms they have confiscated so far this year in their battle against gun violence in Chicago. The recent mass shooting at an Oregon community college has put the debate over gun violence and gun control into the center of the presidential race. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

By J. Wheaton   |   Tuesday, 24 May 2016 10:35 AM

The Chicago Police Department is fighting crime with math, using a computer algorithm devised to predict who is likely to be involved in future shootings.

The system tracks variables such as arrests, shootings, and affiliations with gang members, and assigns scores to predict who is most likely to be shot or to shoot someone, The New York Times reported.

Shaquon Thomas, who was fatally shot last year at age 19, was near the top of the list with a score higher than 500, the Times reported. Authorities hope to prevent such deaths by warning those highest on the list and offering social services to those who want help.

The police department's "strategic subject list" includes about 1,300 people with scores in the upper 200s or higher, the Chicago Tribune reported, noting that it "gives the criminal justice system a manageable place to focus attention."

During Mother's Day weekend this year, there were 51 shooting, including eight fatalities, in the city, and 80 percent of the victims were on the strategic subject list, The Tribune reported.

But the program, which is about three years old, has drawn criticism from some who call it ineffective and complain that it could interfere with civil liberties.

Illinois Institute of Technology professor Miles Wernick devised the algorithm. While police haven't made the 10 variables used in the algorithm public, they say it is based on past behavior such as arrests and convictions and doesn’t include discriminating factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, or geography, The Times reported.

The RAND Corporation is currently studying the effectiveness of the program.

During the past three years, officers have visited the homes of more than 1,300 people on the list. Christopher Mallette, a leader in the effort, told the Times that 21 percent of the people they talked to sought assistance, and that fewer than 9 percent had been shot since a home visit.

In 2014, The Verge reported that "there’s perhaps no urban police force that’s further along — or better funded — than the CPD in its quest to predict crime before it happens."

Concerns were ripe from the start, with Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury telling The Verge, "My fear is that these programs are creating an environment where police can show up at anyone’s door at any time for any reason."

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The Chicago Police Department is fighting crime with math, using a computer algorithm devised to predict who is likely to be involved in future shootings.
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