The secret’s out on the Chicago police’s secret list to predict crime Scott Olson/Getty Images
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A new story on the Chicago Police Department’s “Strategic Subject List” is making some in the city’s law enforcement circle very uncomfortable.

In its expose published yesterday, Chicago Magazine detailed the red flags they found in the ranked “at-risk” individuals derived from the SSL.

The idea of the SSL, which is a computer model, is to predict which people may be involved with violence either as a perpetrator or a victim. The system ranks these individuals with a score from 1 to 500.

The official known purposes of the SSL are twofold: connect individuals to social services and work with victims to help the police in their investigations.

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But as the magazine report outlined, there is very little information about how this process actually works and how it is used.

The claims made through the SSL are vague, and the city officials who have made claims sometimes contradict the public data and documents available.

The investigation also found the use of data is missing the mark. For example, while the SSL is not suppose to influence police behavior, it has led to more police arrests than social service administration.

One of the most eye-catching statistics reported is the fact that “56 percent of black men in the city ages 20 to 29 have an SSL score.” However, the algorithm’s inputs do not include race, gender, or location.

The SSL has been used since 2012 and was secret until the Chicago Sun-Times successfully fought in court to release the records this summer.

Since then, an independent analysis by the RAND Corporation determined the “program had little impact on violence.”


While CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson stood up for the program’s benefits, Karen Sheley of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois’ Police Practices Project says this is “government decision-making turned over to an algorithm without any transparency about it.”

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