This can be a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ Chicago.

In January 2017, after a social media analyst for the Chicago Public Faculties reviewed the Fb profile of a Roosevelt Excessive Faculty scholar and commenced to suspect he could be in a gang, a police officer was summoned to the varsity to conduct an intervention. There wasn’t any imminent menace of violence, however the officer and a faculty district safety official met with the scholar. They requested if he was in a gang.

“That’s my enterprise,” the scholar replied, in accordance with a report from the intervention.

The officer, a member of the Chicago Police Division’s Gang Faculty Security Workforce, informed the scholar he wanted to be extra respectful. The scholar stated he was not in a gang however did cling round gang members.

The officer requested for his or her names, however the scholar wouldn’t give them. The officer requested if the scholar was contemplating becoming a member of a gang. He stated he wasn’t positive. The scholar, the report concludes, “appeared to not be motivated and offered very brief solutions.”

Over the previous 4 faculty years, greater than 700 CPS college students have been referred to as into interventions like this one based mostly on social media exercise that factors to their potential gang involvement. The interventions are one results of a $2.2 million award the district acquired in 2014 via the U.S. Division of Justice’s Complete Faculty Security Initiative, which supplies grants for violence prevention efforts.

The grant coated salaries for 2 intelligence analysts and social media monitoring software program to research college students’ on-line conversations, although officers stopped utilizing the software program in 2017. Jadine Chou, the varsity district’s chief of security and safety, stated the analysts used key phrase searches to seek out threats on the program’s goal faculties, moderately than plugging in particular person college students’ names.

Funding for this system ran out after 2018, however district officers stated they plan to proceed it in some method, saying it retains youngsters protected and provides them much-needed help.

“It’s a program we’re very pleased with,” Chou stated. “Our foremost objective is to redirect college students to a constructive path.”

However the strategy has raised considerations, partially as a result of most college students and fogeys weren’t advised about this system or that faculty officers can be taking over a higher position in monitoring college students’ lives. And it expanded the position of the Gang Faculty Security Group, a small police unit created in 2008 with a considerably slender mission: to intervene after an adolescent will get shot. After a capturing, officers present up on the sufferer’s faculty, in search of to ease tensions and head off retaliation. With this system, officers went into faculties earlier than violence erupted.

Monitoring can save lives if it’s achieved proper, stated Desmond Patton, an affiliate professor on the Columbia College Faculty of Social Work who research social media and gang violence in Chicago. However it could possibly additionally enterprise into over-policing, what Patton describes as a kind of digital cease and frisk that disproportionately targets individuals of shade.

“Oftentimes once we speak about threats and violence and trauma, we’re actually talking about black and brown communities,” Patton stated. “So we aren’t zooming in on the younger individuals at Jones School Prep or Walter Payton or Northside,” prime Chicago excessive faculties with extra white college students than black college students.

Of the 24 faculties within the monitoring program as of final yr, 16 are majority black and 5 are majority Hispanic. Most are on the South or West sides. Forty-six % of all CPS faculties are majority black, based on the newest out there knowledge.

“It seems like a shocking invasion of privateness,” stated Carisa Parker, whose daughter is a freshman at Morgan Park Excessive Faculty, one of many goal faculties. Although she has no indication her daughter’s social media actions have been monitored, she stated the district owes it to oldsters to elucidate how and why her Far Southwest Aspect faculty and the others have been chosen.

“These Officers Simply Care So A lot”

Figuring out that violence between college students typically might be traced to social media posts, CPS officers pursued the grant as one approach to head it off. Some principals say such posts play a task in additional than 90 % of fights between college students, based on a report on this system by the College of Chicago’s Crime Lab, which helps cities research violence discount efforts.

In 2015, the district started the pilot, often known as “Join and Redirect to Respect,” at 16 elementary and excessive faculties to watch college students’ public-facing social media. It will definitely grew to 24 faculties, overlaying some 25,000 college students, based on the Crime Lab. If college students have been discovered to have posted gang-related materials, then district safety specialists and faculty directors would meet with the scholar and hyperlink them with mentors, counselors and part-time or summer time jobs.

In instances the place the scholar posed with a gun or appeared to threaten violence, officers from the Gang Faculty Security Workforce have been introduced in. Officers have been additionally current in some instances the place no gun was concerned, incident studies present, they usually weren’t referred to as in each time there was a gun.