Chicago, United States


Population    2,695,598
    $58,247 - median household;compare U.S. $62,843
$37,103 - mean per capita; compare U.S. $34,103
InequalityMedian household income (2016):
Asian - $87,469
White (non-Hispanic) - $79,865
Hispanic - $52,730
Black - $37,258

  Diversity29.6% - Black or African American alone
0.3% - American Indian alone
6.6% - Asian alone
2.8% - Two or more races
28.8% - Hispanic or Latino
33.3% - White alone, not Hispanic or Latino
  Current governmentChief executive: Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot (since May 2019; term length 4 years)
Legislative body: City Council (one alderman elected from each of 50 wards to serve four-year term). Currently, 46 Democratic aldermen, 4 Independent
Additional city-wide elected officials: City Clerk, City Treasurer

Fast Facts:

• Chicago is the third-largest city in the United States.

• Downtown Chicago is the second-largest commercial business district in North America.

• Chicago is known as America’s most segregated city, with both racial and class inequality high and rising.

• Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot is the city’s first African American woman and openly LGBT mayor.

• Chicago is commonly spoken of in terms of its three “sides”: North Side, South Side, and West Side.

• City politics lean strongly Democratic.

• Chicago mayors have all been Democrats since 1931.

• Next elections will be held in 2023.

Communities of Chicago 

Social contract and the city:

How is inclusion in the city? Are there groups that seem more excluded or included than others? Is this a function of law? or a function of broader more complex dynamics? Did this become more apparent with Covid?

•       Economic reality for Chicagoans varies significantly, largely based on race. This is apparent in reports of median household income (2016):

•   Non-Hispanic White Chicagoans: $79,865;

•   Hispanic Chicagoans: $52,730;

•   Black Chicagoans $37,258.

•       Class divisions are stark, with lowest income Chicagoans subject to income decreases since 2006, while higher income Chicagoans have experienced income growth.

•       This inequality is also apparent across other metrics, including unemployment and educational attainment.

•       Geography plays an important role in inclusion, exclusion and inequality in Chicago. The figure below helps illustrate the racial segregation that often overlaps with economic segregation.

Racial Divide in Chicago. 

•       The Covid-19 pandemic made these issues even more apparent.

•   Death rates: at different points, African Americans made up between 40 and 70 percent of deaths due to Covid-19 in the city.

•   Stay-at-home orders: differing impacts felt across different groups, with less economically and physically secure residents subjected to greater challenges including inability to access the internet and health and safety concerns.

•   Chicago launched the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team early in the pandemic to focus on targeted education, prevention, testing, treatment, and support services initiatives.

Key Takeaway:

Historic patterns of segregation and opportunity loss created disparities in access, quality of life, and security for residents largely along racial and economic lines.  African American and Latinx residents in the South and West sides of the city are often hardest hit by these issues. Inequality threatens not only to physical and economic security, but also to education, access to technology and jobs, and long-term physical and mental health.

What seems to be the main physical security questions in the city? (pick-pocketing, organized crime, covid-related, etc.) Are there security issues in the city?

Gun violence:

•    Chicago has the highest total number of homicides in the US (14th per capita).

•   Shootings account for over 80% of Chicago’s homicides.

•   The CPD recovers more guns per capita than the New York Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Department combined.

Impact of gangs:

•   Poverty and economic insecurity are closely tied to issues like violence and gang affiliation, which can perpetuate cycles of inequality.

•   The city is currently home to an estimated 55 gangs that operate as around 747 factions with 2,500 separate subsets.

•   Total gang membership (active and inactive) is around 117,000 individuals.

•   Top-down prosecution strategy in the 1990’s created a power vacuum that led to the current volatile, “anarchic culture of violence”.

•   Gangs are closely tied to the city’s gun violence crisis: According to the 2019 CPD Annual Report, 58 percent of homicides with a known motive (149 of 257) were gang-related.

  • Children and youth are increasingly victimized by gang violence.
  • South and West side communities are subjected to the majority of gang-related violence; these communities are predominantly home to African American and Latinx residents.
  • These communities bear a disproportionate physical and mental burden because of gang violence.
  • Gang violence can reinforce historical patterns of segregation within the city:
    • Residents can miss out on opportunities for employment and other activities outside of their neighborhood because of assumptions of gang affiliation related to their residence, and movement between or across neighborhoods can become impossible due to risk of violence.

Who are the main providers of security services in the city to different communities? And the de facto? (Police, military, private security services, gangs, church, etc. i.e. it may be that in a city like Geneva private security services play an important role in protecting diplomats.)

The Chicago Police Department (CPD):

•   The second-largest municipal police department in the United States.

•    Since 1960s, the CPD’s funding and personnel have increased substantially, while clearance rates have fallen.

•   Mayor Lightfoot campaigned on promises of police reform, is now halfway through her first term, and has come under criticism both from the police union and from reform activists.

Issues and Concerns:

•   In January 2017, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) published a report concluding many reforms are needed to address issues including:

§  poor officer training and quickness to use excessive force, most often against Black and Latino residents;

§  “siloed, inaccurate, and incomplete” data collection and management practices;

§  misconduct or mismanagement relating to video footage;

§  non-compliance with video release or use of force incident requests.

•   Police culture of preventing accountability through normalized behavior such as tampering with cameras and audio recording, not filing incident reports or filing incomplete reports.

•   Lack of community trust in CPD.

Security and digitization in the city:

Does the city government have a local program of using digital technologies to provide security services? (Cameras, data analytics, local tapping etc.) Is there data on how the plan is being implemented? 

•       Chicago has actively incorporated a range of digital tools into its security operations, and partners with private companies and non-profits such as UChicago Crime Lab.

These technologies include:

•   Strategic Decision Support Centers (SDSCs)

•   Cameras and Operation Virtual Shield

•   The Strategic Subject List project

•   Gunshot detection

•   Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) systems

•   Cell-site simulators (CSS)

•   Facial recognition

•   Data collection, analysis, and publication

•       Some initiatives (e.g., Operation Virtual Shield, Strategic Subject List) have received pushback from privacy advocates,

•       Others (e.g., gunshot detection, automatic license plate readers, cell-site simulators) have been adopted by law enforcement across the country and are part of national conversations about digitization and security.

•       Further concerns about privacy and accountability have been raised over CPD partnering with private companies for these digital tools.

What is the municipal authority regarding the provision of physical security? (is the police department attached to the local government? How is the police regulated? etc.)

  • Superintendent of Police (leads CPD, appointed by mayor): David O’Neal Brown.
  • Chicago Police Board: nominates candidates for Superintendent, adopts departmental rules and regulations, and decides many disciplinary cases
  • Oversight via the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA):
    • Independent city agency authorized to investigate allegations of police misconduct and shootings.
    • Can make recommendations about disciplinary actions and policy.
  • CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs:
    • Investigates complaints of police misconduct not under jurisdiction of COPA (Jurisdiction).
  • Updated civilian oversight plan:

How do national and local laws regulate (in general) technology companies that develop and sell digital technologies related to security services? 

•       A patchwork of legal protections is emerging across the federal, state, and local levels, with evolving implications for Chicago’s growing suite of digital policing tools.

1.     Federal law: the Fourth Amendment

2.     Federal law: legislative statutes

3.     The Department of Justice

4.     Illinois state law

•       Challenges:

1.     Public and legislator awareness of technologies lags behind that of the CPD, and regulatory legislation is likewise delayed behind departmental adoption.

2.     Policy does not always match practice. Lack of compliance with regulations can be seen in examples of officer tampering with devices or intentional withholding or lack of recording of essential information.

3.     Federal oversight and interventions are in tension with the need for community policing, which is necessarily local.

Have there been local conversations (or scandals) about the potentially harmful impacts of these technologies in the city? In the country?


Issue spotting:

What are key issues in the city’s social contract?

•       Self-reinforcing segregation (see above)
•       Growing income inequality (see above)
•       Lack of trust (historically justified) between community and police (see above)
•       Climate Change and Rising Water Levels

•   Chicago requires a delicate balance of water levels between Lake Michigan and the manmade Chicago River to allow the city to properly dispose of wastewater via the river and obtaining clean drinking water from the lake while avoiding serious floods.

•   Climate change has threatened this balance, bringing drought and storms. High water levels can cause disastrous floods and low water levels in Lake Michigan could reverse the flow of the River and contaminate the Lake.

•   Lakefront residents are at imminent risk and many South Side neighborhoods are vulnerable to these issues as well, as residents face common sewage backups during rain that pose health risks and cause concern about property devaluation.

·       The Digital Divide:

o   Gaps in access to the internet or other technologies that have become essential disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

o   Youth are particularly impacted, as access to online education is insecure.

o   Efforts to address the challenge:

§ Chicago Connected public school initiative, which hopes to distribute up to 100,000 internet connectivity devices to affected families.  Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities also partnered with the Smart Cities for All initiative to bring awareness to the ways in which individuals with disabilities may be left behind by smart city innovations

Key technology companies providing smart city tech to the city?

•       ShotSpotter (acoustic gunshot detection)

•       CompStat (data management)

•       HunchLab (predictive policing -- sold to ShotSpotter in 2018)

•       “Big Tech” in Chicago:

o   Big Tech has a big presence in Chicago and is deeply connected to both the city’s economy and infrastructure.

o   Major names including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, IBM, and Waze have a presence in Chicago via regional offices, partnerships with local agencies, sponsorship programs, etc. 

o   Start-ups are also prominent in Chicago.

o   Criticisms and Changing Strategies:

§  Donations by Elon Musk to former Mayor Emanuel’s campaign have been called into question.

§  Former Mayor Emanuel was known as a champion of technology (big and small). Mayor Lightfoot has expressed a shifted focus, with her platform addressing more directly urgent issues such as police-community relations and neighborhood-based economic inequality, with less emphasis on the role of technology in the city.  

Key decision-makers in government:

•       Mayor Lori Lightfoot

•       Superintendent of Police David O’Neal Brown

o   First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter (responsible for field operations) and Executive Director Robert Boik (responsible for administrative operations) report directly to Superintendent

•       Aldermen exercise particular control over their own wards through custom of “aldermanic prerogative”

Key community organizations:

•       National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated

•       Teamwork Englewood

•       Resident Association of Greater Englewood

•       Chicago Urban League - dedicated to advocacy across a range of educational, economic, and social issues, with a focus on African American Chicagoans:

•       Tech startup incubators and collaboratives:



·       Code Out Violence: a datathon event for Crime Analysts

·       Institute For Public Safety Partnership at University of Illinois

·       UChicago Urban Labs Crime Lab
·       Invisible Institute: grassroots journalism production company