Chicago’s Missing Persons Problem + Kierra Coles + The Surveillance Apparatus that Sees All — How Does One Just “Vanish” Under Total Surveillance? Make it Make Sense.

Aly Alexandra
33 min readMay 30, 2022

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Special thanks to Amara of “Black Girl Gone” for assistance on the details of this case. Check out her Podcast, “Black Girl Gone” on Spotify and YouTube. I’ll do my best to speak about Kierra in present-tense when possible, because I do hope that she’s still alive out there. This article is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of missing people who simply “vanish” from thin air in the Chicago region. Given the surveillance apparatus that we’re all living under, not only in Chicago, but, at this point, throughout much of the world, you’d think that missing persons were a thing of the past. Yet all too often, people are picked up off the street, and police have no “hustle” when it comes to solving these cases. I wanted to touch on Kierra’s story — which, in comparison to many other cases — mainly of white women — got almost zero media attention. At this point, you’d be crazy to think it’s unintentional.

The Case of Kierra Coles

It’s the fall of 2018 in Chicago, Illinois — Kierra Coles is a vibrant young woman who was just starting to spread her wings. She’d recently moved into a new place on the South Side of Chicago along with a brand new car that she’d been able to purchase as well. It’s safe to say that life was going great for Kierra. There’s nothing more exciting that the feeling you get when things start “falling into place,” and Kierra felt that she’d finally hit her stride to begin building her life. She’d been dating her boyfriend, Josh Simmons, for about six years and had started working with him at the US Postal Service in 2015. Fast forward back to 2018: she’d just found out that she was expecting her first child and was beyond thrilled. Although she and Josh had been off-and-on throughout their relationship, she was generally excited about the prospect of being a mother.

On October 3, 2018, Karen Phillips, Kierra’s mother, could feel something was off. She and her daughter were quite close and spoke around the same time every day. When she didn’t hear from Kierra, her motherly instincts kicked in, for good reason. Kierra had taken off work on October 1st and 2nd to attend to some personal business — including her first doctor’s appointment so she could hear her baby’s heartbeat — obviously, a huge deal. She was clearly preparing for the baby and was doing everything she could to make sure the baby was welcomed with open arms and a loving home.

A sidenote: the chaotic news dumps from this case make it almost impossible to find a cohesive narrative. This shows you how shoddy the investigation has been from the start. Many news outlets still report that she went missing on 10/2/2018, but Karen and Kierra spoke on that day. To this day — much of the public information on this case has not been changed, making it even harder to follow the case for individuals who are just now learning the details. It’s one thing to make a mistake and correct it — it’s quite another to continuously report inaccurate information without any kind of correction or acknowledgement. I don’t expect much from the Chicago press corp — but their coverage of missing persons in the city is deplorable and the Chicago Police Department’s lack of interest in pursuing this case is equally as deplorable (but predictable, sadly).

Karen attempted to call Kierra, but her phone kept going to voicemail on 10/3/2018. After not hearing from her daughter, she tried to not overreact — she went to work and then went to Kierra’s apartment during her lunch break. Upon her arrival, she noticed Kierra’s car parked outside of her apartment, giving her a temporary moment of relief. She ended up leaving without seeing Kierra, and figured she was just resting and didn’t feel like talking. Hours later, Karen realized that Kierra hadn’t posted anything on her social media accounts in a day or so, and as an avid user of Snapchat — something seemed OFF. Even if Kierra’s phone was broken, her mother knew she would’ve contacted her regardless.

The next day, Karen contacted Kierra’s work — the USPS — to find out if she’d been to work. They let her know that while Kierra had taken the 2 requested days off, she’d also called in sick for an additional day on 10/3 and she didn’t show up for work on 10/4. Karen says that the person she spoke with was confident that it was Kierra who called in, dispelling the rumors that someone had called in on her behalf. Personally — I’m quite suspicious of all of it, and think there could be some issues as to whether that was really Kierra who called, but for now, we’ll go with it.

Karen then called Josh, Kierra’s boyfriend, who asserted that he’d not spoken to or seen her in days. Panic then set in. Kierra’s mom called CPD on Thursday, October 4th and requested they meet at Kierra’s apartment for a well-being check. When they enter, the apartment is empty. The general reporting, once again, depict a variety of stories on the case on what was found upon entry into the apartment, but the general sense, according to Kierra’s mom, was that the police didn’t discover the car in front of the apartment — because Karen had already confirmed that it was parked outside. Another piece of shoddy reporting — it was claimed that the police were the ones to find Kierra’s purse and cell phone, but it was her family who found it in the trunk of Kierra’s car. They knew, in their minds (the family), that Kierra hadn’t left on her own because she’d left her cell phone there.

E. 81st St. & S. Vernon Ave in Chicago, near Kierra’s residence

CPD then designated this as a “high-risk missing person” because of her pregnancy, and the investigation ensued. Kierra’s family held vigils and spread throughout the city in search of Kierra. A neighbor’s surveillance video was then released to the public, with the backing of CPD. A young woman is wearing a postal uniform stamped on 10/3 at 11:45AM. It was alarming for several reasons. Why would Kierra be wearing her uniform if she called out sick that day? Why did the video show her walking past her car? Her lunch was found in the car, but none of it made sense. Once the video hit the media scene, the public started to pay attention. However, the rumor mill started running wild — and it was hard to keep up with the actual details of the case. People started to look at others in the area — but one person of interest — was of course, the boyfriend.

Josh and Kierra had an on-again, off-again relationship. Apparently, Josh ended up having other relationships with different women, and he has a couple children outside of this relationship. To this day, we don’t really know how Josh felt about the news that Kierra was pregnant. Given the fact that he and his other girlfriend quit their jobs at the USPS immediately, lawyered up, and moved, I think you can see how little Josh seemed to care about Kierra at the end of the day. TO THIS DAY, he is still just considered as a “person of interest.” At the time, the family didn’t think much of Josh — they’d always had pleasant interactions with him. However, months later, after finding out that Josh had gotten married to his other girlfriend and was expecting another child, combined with the fact that Josh didn’t participate in any of the searches at the beginning, it’s safe to say his movements are quite suspect.

The Investigation

As mentioned above, a surveillance video that was released to the public, left Kierra’s loved ones with more questions than answers. A neighbor’s surveillance camera caught “Kierra” walking down the block — but none of the timing added up. Still, others believed this was the missing key to the case — they figured other cameras would’ve picked up her movements once she left the frame of this particular camera, but nothing came from it. Karen Phillips, upon viewing the video, didn’t think that was actually her daughter. Call it a mother’s instinct, but in these types of situations, they tend to line up when all is said and done. The video below (starts at 1:36) is what was released to the public and is still, to this day, cited as Kierra.

Lo and behold, we find out that Karen Phillips is not the only one who suspects that this isn’t actually Kierra. The day after the release of this video, Karen went to the Chicago Police Department to voice her concerns and check in on the status of the investigation. “It’s a mother thing. You just know your child,” said Phillips. “That’s not her walk. She was a little bit smaller and a little bit shorter.” After she arrived at the station, she was horrified to find out that CPD was well aware that this was, in fact, NOT Kierra Coles. According to Kierra’s mother, along with an NBC report that came out in 2022, the police told Ms. Phillips to not tell anyone that it wasn’t actually Kierra. The video footage was actually of another woman who happened to live on Kierra’s block who also worked for the Postal Service. Karen Phillips admitted that she regretted not saying anything earlier to the public (she waited two years before saying anything), but it’s quite understandable why she didn’t. The police told her that they released this video in some kind of attempt to “throw off” the potential suspect (who they still have yet to name…) — and Karen just wanted to make sure the investigation went smoothly, so she stayed quiet. After two years of absolutely nothing, she decided to come forward and let people know.

From the NBC report: “Phillips told NBC 5 Investigates that another Chatham neighbor [neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side] showed her a video of Kerra and her boyfriend, Josh Simmons, leaving her apartment in separate cars on the Tuesday night that Kierra was alleged to have been last seen. The video was turned over to police. Phillips also disclosed that after leaving Kierra’s apartment, Chicago police detectives told her that the couple then went to an ATM nearby where video captured Kierra taking out $400 from her banking account and handing it over to her boyfriend.”

So — to summarize: we have a missing pregnant woman who, not until later on, we find out is not actually the woman on the surveillance tape that was released — knowingly, by CPD. They then tell her mother that Kierra went to an ATM to take out $400 for her boyfriend, and once again, she just vanished into thin air. How? How is there not footage of her after she left? Are they not able to track her vehicle? How is there not footage of her arriving back home, when her car was always in the same place and neighbors cameras hadn’t been changed? Why are people supposed to just wait and see if the CPD does anything, when it’s clear that they’re hardly interested in this? Make it make sense.

Josh Simmons

Karen Phillips said that Simmons, the father of Kierra’s baby, had been in Kierra’s life for about six years or so. He had kids with another woman, who, understandably, as many of us in relationships would probably agree with, Kierra Coles had some issues with. The other woman’s name? Also Kierra. Kierra Smith. Things had gotten so bad between the threesome that Kierra Coles had allegedly been banned from coming to Josh’s house after a fight ensued between the two women. Yet still, Phillips really didn’t question Josh’s motives as far as being directly involved with the case. Only over the last year or so has it really become apparent that he truly wanted nothing to do with Kierra Coles given the fact that he provided zero help in the investigation. Phillips said, “I can’t understand. You dated my daughter for six years. I took you to be a decent guy, you work and go to church, and now my daughter is pregnant and missing, and you do nothing.” Josh has since relocated to Louisiana, where he’s married to Kierra Smith with another baby on the way, if not born already.

The US Chicago Division of Postal Inspectors issued a statement: “Postal inspectors have tracked down and vetted nearly 400 leads across the country. We cannot begin to imagine the level of pain, grief, and frustration felt by Ms. Coles’ family, friends, and community.” They’re offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to Ms. Coles’ whereabouts — asking people to call 877–876–2455 with reference to case number 2693502.

Loose Lips Can Get you Killed

Kierra’s father, Joseph Coles, actually relocated from Wisconsin a few weeks after she’d gone missing, and was spending his nights sleeping in his car outside of Kierra’s apartment. Again — it’s understandable why any parent would do this. You’re not getting much from the authorities who are supposed to be capable of handling this type of thing — and you’re not getting any answers from the man she’s been with for six years. On a more recent interview within the last year or so, Joseph said that he stopped sleeping outside of Kierra’s apartment and started sleeping outside of Josh’s house. He’s been determined to find him and talk to him, but Josh has avoided him entirely — especially now that he’s moved to Louisiana. Yet still, Joseph makes no qualms about wanting to see Josh face to face. Apparently, there was a meetup that was set up early on at their church so that the two families could get together and talk. Joseph Coles brought a local activist with him, as many grieving families typically do when ongoing investigations are taking up the majority of the family’s attention. The meetup didn’t go well, and Josh didn’t even show up — his family did on his behalf.

After the meeting was over and everyone went their separate ways, Joseph was alarmed to find out that a few guys confronted the activist on his way home, and told him to stop talking about the case — they even threatened to kill him. Unfortunately, this is all too common when it comes to these types of things. I can think of multiple cases where people know what happened, but are too afraid to say anything, because they know the cops won’t actually provide them protection. This is half of the reason why crimes aren’t solved in Chicago — among other places in the United States and throughout the world. Police do the bare minimum — and if they’re not in on it (not saying they are) — they don’t do much to offer protection to witnesses whose lives literally depend on NO ONE knowing that they hinted at having information. “If you see something, say something” doesn’t really work in communities who have been betrayed and abused over and over again by the same authorities who are tasked with “serving and protecting” the public.

“Possible Foul Play”

Months after the investigation began, police finally admitted that there was “possible foul play” with this case [no shit]. We have no idea where Kierra is — but we know someone knows where Kierra is. Her family has consistently been following up on this to no avail. It is important to note that Ms. Phillips did mention that Kierra might have decided to just “run off” after realizing that things weren’t as great as she wanted things to be given the state of her relationship with Josh. However, I agree with Amara’s assessment of that particular point — it seemed like it was a way for Ms. Phillips to possibly reassure herself that maybe, just maybe, Kierra did choose this on her own. No one else in her family agreed and later on, her mother recanted the statement that she made. Unfortunately, officials were fine with this assessment, as it takes, in their mind, some of the responsibility on police to do their job.

In January of 2019, Kierra’s family and co-workers hold a press conference to raise more awareness on her disappearance. A lot of people spoke at this press conference, including Karen Phillips. She revealed to everyone — as mentioned before, that Josh hadn’t been cooperating with officials in the investigation. In March 2019, 5 months after Kierra was last seen, she would’ve been 5 months pregnant and her due date was quickly approaching. NBC News reported that the police did narrow it down to a “person of interest.” They’d asserted their thorough investigation, but nothing had come to light. They said, “We have a pretty good idea of what transpired. Now we just have to find the evidence. A detective’s personal opinion doesn’t matter. A minimum of 2 or 3 persons of interest are in question.”

Two or three people? Who are they? CPD says they narrowed things down to a personal associate of hers, a friend who was one of the last people to see her, but they never found her, and someone else. They wouldn’t release the names, because they didn’t want to jeopardize the investigation. Interestingly enough, you can’t actually find this clip now, per Amara’s podcast on the topic. I looked and can’t find anything either. The statements that the police initially give with renewed hope about these new persons of interest, ultimately lead to nothing.

April 23rd, Kierra’s due date, was a painful reminder that she was still missing. Despite the March statements from police, no arrests had been made — and the CPD was providing almost no information on the status of the case. As mentioned before, Kierra’s father, who quit his job and moved to Chicago, continues to stay in the city and coordinate vigils, press conferences, and hands out flyers throughout the neighborhoods.

Back to the cops — they won’t identify the persons of interest because they don’t have the evidence to disclose these people. Huh? Let’s pause — what does that actually mean? If you’re confused, it’s okay. So am I. That’s why nothing about this case makes sense. We know that she had issues with her boyfriend, Josh. We know that he had another relationship and that the other woman, who was pregnant at the same time, did not get along with Kierra Coles. I’m not here to judge — we’ve all been in messy situations, but it’s almost like the police are hoping that people fixate on this fact so that no one actually checks into the status of the investigation. It sounds like Josh may have made it seem like he and his previous relationship with Kierra Smith had gone south but was actually still alive and well, considering she was pregnant with his child at the same time as Kierra Coles.

Kierra’s family recently held a vigil at the post office where she worked and once again, pleaded with the public to come forward. The case is still classified as “open” — but there’s nothing new at all. Kierra’s mother believes she’s still alive and won’t believe anything else until she sees a body. Fast forward to 2020 — the pandemic happens, and it’s still another year without Kierra. In July of 2020, Kierra’s family gathered outside of CPD headquarters to demand answers. Her father said, “They keep telling me that they’re watching ‘these people,’ but they’re not filling me in on anything.” There were then reports that CPD was suspending the investigation because they’d exhausted their leads, but then recanted the story and said they were still actively pursuing the investigation. In September of 2020, they had a birthday party for Kierra — but it was hardly anything to celebrate. Can you imagine having to live like this? You already don’t trust the police, you have no idea what happened to the boyfriend, aside from the fact that he left town and got married to his other woman, and you’re left with o

In February of 2021, Karen Phillips, as I mentioned above, finally admitted that the surveillance footage that was used in every single news story about Kierra and was used on her missing person’s flyer, was not actually Kierra. Like I mentioned before, she almost immediately knew that it wasn’t her daughter, but she felt like she had no choice but to cooperate. She didn’t want to jeopardize the case — and she was relying on people she already didn’t trust, but desperately wanted to believe they had good intentions. I’m not saying they didn’t, but it’s pretty damn weird to put that out there as some type of assistance in an investigation. How does it obstruct the investigation to tell people that it’s not Kierra — WHEN THE VIDEO WASN’T OF KIERRA? In fact, this actually could’ve thrown people off even further. Why would CPD do this? Again, Karen referred back to the other surveillance videos from October 2nd. A neighbor’s camera caught Kierra and Josh leaving Kierra’s apartment and getting into separate cars. The second video obtained by police, that I mentioned above, shows Kierra withdrawing the money. Yet still to this day, police haven’t confirmed the existence publicly of either of these videos.

Confused yet? None of this makes sense.

We still have no idea where Kierra is. There’s no official person of interest. There are just a bunch of wild theories and speculations, and a lot of heartbreak on behalf of the family and friends. I wish I could say cases like these are rare — but in fact, they’re kind of the status quo in Chicago. It’s unacceptable. This isn’t anything new to some residents of Chicago, but honestly, I’ve gotta say, I grow more and more disgusted with the rest of the people in Chicago who are consistently tweeting and gathering together to protest things like abortion rights, Ukraine, and vaccines — yet NOTHING — and I mean NOTHING — when it comes to all of the missing people in Chicago. I suppose I’m asking for a lot here — but would it kill people to look within their own cities to tackle these issues? There are activist groups on a very local level within the neighborhoods, but the large-scale protests don’t ever really touch on the issues that go within all of the missing persons cases in the city. The hyper-local groups, like Kierra’s family and friends, only get so much media attention, before something else comes along. Why is it that crimes and missing persons are always solved on the North Side of Chicago? Why don’t missing African American and Latino women matter? I know I’m like a broken record, but nothing makes sense.

It’s important to understand that people don’t just “vanish” — especially in a city like Chicago. I wanted to discuss “Operation Virtual Shield” and go into the specifics of the surveillance apparatus in Chicago, to hopefully connect the dots as to why it actually doesn’t make sense that people go missing. Everything is on camera, all the time, in real-time. Police can pull up any intersection at any time of the day to see exactly who was where at what time. It’s crazy, right? There’s no information when you have missing persons — but the cops can track down looters from the George Floyd protests — still to this day (told you so, sorry). My point is — in the context of missing people, you have to ask yourself, how is this possible when a city like Chicago has this much surveillance? You may already know about it in terms of studying the surveillance state that we all live under — now apply what you learn below to the missing women and men issue that seems to be getting worse.

Operation Virtual Shield

“Operation Virtual Shield” that was implemented by former Chicago mayor, Richard M. Daley in 2004. It created the “most extensive video surveillance network in the United States by linking more than 3000 surveillance cameras to a centralized monitoring system, which captures and processes camera feeds in real time. It also includes sensors such as biological, chemical, and radiological sensors. It is able to detect suspicious or dangerous activity and identify its location, and now incorporates facial recognition.” The cost of the program was around $217 million — much of which came from the Department of Homeland Security. Daley once touted that Chicago would have a surveillance camera on every street corner by the year 2016. That doesn’t even include the private partnership surveillance program — but I’ll get into that later. Thanks to the Lucy Parsons Lab for their research on this issue.

Video Surveillance

Video monitoring and Chicago are synonymous. For as long as I can remember, the Chicago Police Department’s flashing blue “eyes in the sky” have always been a staple in Chicago’s landscape.

https://www.aclu-il.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/video_camera_surveillance_in_chicago.pdf

While the design you see above reflects the older, bulkier model — the newer cameras are sleeker and are designed to fit in with whatever they’re installed on. I guess they figured you’d appreciate the surveillance a little more if it blended in with their hideous LED street lights (small qualm but I’ll have to get into why I despise the new LED street lights that have been installed all around the city). These flashing blue light cameras are were installed under the jurisdiction of the Chicago Police Department. They were NOT installed under Operation Virtual Shield — but they now feed into that system. Moreover, after Operation Virtual Shield was implemented, all of the public and private cameras operating within the city of Chicago are now under the umbrella of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, or “OEMC.” This allows the OEMC to follow a retention schedule for its’ technical data — listed below. It’s interesting — isn’t it? You’d think they would hold onto things longer than what’s listed below. Something seems off.

https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/oem/provdrs/tech.html

Video monitoring is one of the most well-known part of Chicago’s surveillance net that spans from the northernmost point of Chicago all the way down to the border of Indiana. A network of AT LEAST 50,000 cameras, if not more, (including cameras on the CTA — Chicago’s public transit system) — all of which are operated and maintained by the OEMC. As mentioned above, many of these cameras with the flashing blue lights are visible in neighborhoods where police have always maintained a heavy presence. It’s not uncommon to see clusters of these cameras within housing projects — much like surveillance operations in other major urban areas like Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, and Detroit.

https://www.aclu-il.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/video_camera_surveillance_in_chicago.pdf

People living in some of the most crime-ridden areas of the city know that sometimes, calling police doesn’t actually do anything. Why? Because they know they’re being watched all of the time, in real-time. If the city had any interest in protecting the regular people living within the confines of these surveilled prisons, they’d have done so years ago. It’sj ust the fact of the matter. If they can see everything — they are always watching these “crimes” happen. Why are so many left unsolved? To add to my overall point — why is it that we can rarely track down missing women who simply “vanish” into thin air? Make it make sense.

The locations of the subset of cameras operated by Chicago Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security are not covert operations — the locations are known and documented. The “flashing blue light” cameras, also known as POD cameras, or Police Observation Devices, within Operation Virtual Shield, is shown below.

https://chicagopolicesurveillance.com/tactics/video-surveillance.html

South Side

https://chicagopolicesurveillance.com/tactics/video-surveillance.html

Southwest Side

https://chicagopolicesurveillance.com/tactics/video-surveillance.html

West Side

https://chicagopolicesurveillance.com/tactics/video-surveillance.html

North/Northwest Side

https://chicagopolicesurveillance.com/tactics/video-surveillance.html

Interesting — isn’t it? Do you notice any differences in the number of surveillance cameras depending on what neighborhoods we’re in? This is just a faraway picture — when you zoom in, the cameras actually expand and they’re literally on multiple corners. Again — this map shows where the flashing blue light cameras are — this doesn’t include the newer cameras that are installed on LED streetlights. I’m confident that at this point, with all of the street development projects, traffic flow programs, and “smart city” infrastructure operations that have been ongoing for the last 10 years or so, that Richard Daley’s dream of having a camera on every street corner in Chicago has definitely come true.

The cameras within this network all have “pan and zoom” capabilities. From license plates to facial recognition, there’s almost nothing that can get past the eyes in Chicago. As a sidenote — I want to mention that in no way is this surveillance technology a new concept. I imagine most of you reading this already know that our cities are under heavy surveillance — much of which has been public since these programs’ inceptions after 9/11. Depending on the version of the camera, maintenance costs range anywhere from $12,000-$29,000 per camera. Older cameras that are clearly denoted with the CPD logo and the bright blue light are cheaper to maintain — the newer and nondescript cameras that blend into the environment in which they’re installed are more expensive to maintain. Yet year after year, we’re told that Chicago Police need more and more money. That doesn’t even get into the budget that goes into the Office of Emergency Management and Communications itself. “Police claim a reduction in crime in the vicinity of the cameras. However, no experimental study has been performed that controls for many of the other confounding factors that are present — including other CPD programs intended to reduce crime. Agencies like the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) claim that hundreds of arrests have resulted at least in part from their cameras.”

Back to video surveillance. This is just a tiny sliver of information on the publicly installed cameras that oversee our daily movements within the city of Chicago — to “protect us from crime,” or something like that. But what about the private cameras that are integrated within the larger system? The locations within the “Private Sector Camera Initiative,” where private cameras from sister agencies and Chicago businesses allow their camera feeds to be integrated into the larger surveillance ecosystem, are not known to the public. The Lucy Parsons Lab attempted to gain access to these records through a FOIA request, but were unsurprisingly unsuccessful.

The “Private Sector Camera Initiative” via the OEMC
https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/oemc/supp_info/OEMC_Private_Sect_Fact_sheet.pdf
https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/oemc/supp_info/OEMC_Private_Sect_Fact_sheet.pdf

It’s funny, isn’t it? The requirements imposed on businesses to participate in this “public private partnership” (I’m telling y’all, Chicago is HOME to the public private partnership!) — they require a public IP address that’s “directly accessible by OEMC over the internet.” They’ve perfected the art of designing a digital prison. Again — a lot of this information won’t really be anything new to some of you — but I’m getting to a point about an even larger issue that continues to get worse in the city of Chicago. Before getting to that, let’s look at some more components of Operation Virtual Shield.

https://www.aclu-il.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/video_camera_surveillance_in_chicago.pdf

Check out this video that was put out by the Chicago Police Department 14 years ago, not long after the implementation of Operation Virtual Shield. The cameras are “so good — we can actually zoom in on their face and see them looking around” as an indicator of whether they’re “about to do something” when conducting “bait operations.” So — once again, it’s confirmed — it’s not just some vague body moving around on these cameras where they have to guess as to what they’re seeing. They can zoom in on a granular level to document anything and everything. Officers can pick and choose which “crimes” they want to hone in on through a blended approach of the old school “bait” tactics combined with high-tech cameras that can zoom in on the most intricate facial formations and traits. The officers enjoy more “freedom,” according to the video, when fighting crime, because the onus of accountability rests within the “precision cameras” — officers are just there to facilitate the process that follows the crimes that they decide to pursue. Depending on your definition of crime and what population you’re watching, we know how terribly that works out for some people. They even tout the excitement within the department — officers don’t need to go to trial anymore! They have the cameras that show everything in real-time, therefore, more plea bargains occur and less cases are sent to trial. Hm.

License Plate Readers

I was surprised to learn how long the license plate reader technology embedded within the larger surveillance networks of Chicago have actually been in operation. “Automatic License Plate Recognition, or ALPR, take images of vehicles in public spaces, analyze the text on their license plates, and record a timestamp and position of the car’s plates based on GPS coordinates of the camera.” In 2019, the Chicago Police Department’s 25 districts were shown to have at least six ALPR-equipped police vehicles to be able to apprehend offenders. Chicago can also utilize their video surveillance networks to scan license plates. Once again — I’m amazed at the number of missing people in Chicago given the heavy surveillance on both human beings and vehicles — all of which are operating in real-time. People are watching — yet people continue to just “vanish without a trace.” It’s bullshit. Sorry — just had to cut to the chase.

“According to the Chicago Police Department, a vehicle-mounted ALPR can capture 3,200 images of license plates in one shift. Documents from the CPD acquired by the LPL show that over a two year period, ALPR’s recorded over 200 million hits. CPD claims that the recovery of stolen vehicles has increased significantly due to ALPRs. From 2016–2020, carjackings have decreased by 20%” — HM — it’s almost like they were testing out new technology that they must have installed within the last year, because carjackings suddenly spiked in the city — and no one really knew why.

Chicago Police Department purchases Motorola/PAGIS automated license plate readers, according to this Chicago Surveillance article here. “These devices scan license plates and check them against a Hot List of plates of interest. According to FOIA documents acquired by the author, there might be as many as 300,000 license plates stored in the Hot List at anytime in Chicago — meaning that approximately 1 in 10 Chicagoans has their vehicle on the Hot List. Each plate’s information is stored for 365 days unless it is deemed ‘pertinent to criminal or civil matters,’ in which case it is retained until a court orders it to be removed.

Biometrics

The use of physical markers like facial features, fingerprints or gait for identification purposes is not new by any means — but in Chicago, we really don’t know how often or how targeted the use of facial recognition is utilized on a daily basis. We know that all images taken from any camera operating within the city of Chicago can be analyzed through facial recognition — so it’s safe to say that it’s quite frequent.

“CPD has released very little information as to how they employ facial recognition technology, although it seems that most of the relevant infrastructure and personnel are located in the Crime Prevention and Information Center (CPIC), located in the Public Safety Headquarters. CPIC is part of a network of over 80 fusion centers around the country, which were created in the wake of 9/11 to gather and share counterterrorism intelligence.” — Chicago Public Surveillance, 2021

As many of us know, Chicago signed a contract in 2020 with Clearview AI. It was almost “meant to be,” if you will — Chicago’s been a blueprint for total surveillance for decades and then came Clearview AI — the cherry on top to the surveillance state apparatus that we’re all living under in some capacity. Chicago joined a long list of clients, including:

SilverSEAL Global Security, Best Buy, Walmart, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Coinbase, Eventbrite, Madison Square Garden, Thiel Capital (supposedly never used LOL), SoftBank, Founders Fund, The Australian Federal Police, Toronto Police, New Zealand Police (trial only?), DEA, US Secret Service, FBI, Customs and Border Protection, Miami Police Department, Philadelphia Police Department, BATF, Indiana State Police, New York Police Department, the Illinois Secretary of State, Naperville, IL Police Department — just to name a FEW. Integrated systems such as Clearview are perfect for predictive policing and outcome management. It’s laughable, at this point, to think that any politician or person touting themselves as some kind of “freedom activist” would claim they could fight this type of surveillance through government action alone. A lot of the things I’m discussing here today should be a reminder of that — this information isn’t secretive or some kind of breaking story. It’s just a reminder of our reality.

It’s important to point out that Chicago’s contract with Clearview ended in May of 2020 — but the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Clearview citing much of what happened in Illinois as part of their argument.

https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/big-win-settlement-ensures-clearview-ai-complies-with-groundbreaking-illinois

What was the point…? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Gun Shot Detection — also known as “Shotspotter”

Shotspotter, one of the largest vendor of audio surveillance systems in existence, consist of sensors and microphones distributed over a neighborhood in order to determine the location of a gunshot. Sensor data is then sent through a set of algorithms to verify the gunshot. Verified alerts are then pushed to police out in the field through dispatchers (you can listen to police radios in Chicago — you’ll hear the alerts in real-time). Shotspotter claims to be able to differentiate between fireworks and gunshots — yet just a few monts ago, the city’s inspector general found that just 9.1% of all shotspotter alerts were actually linked to gun crimes in the city. Naturally — true to form, the city of Chicago just signed another contract with Shotspotter — so there’s no end in sight. Most of the time, Shotspotter’s inaccuracies lead to a goose chase around the city. What does that mean for the rest of the city? It means that depending on what neighborhood you’re in — you may not see cops show up at all. Domestic violence calls, battery calls, well-being checks, etc…all are second priority in the city of Chicago. Gunshot calls are ALWAYS responded to the quickest — regardless of what neighborhood you’re in. It’s almost like the intent is to just keep the chase going on forever. You’d think that they’d have some type of system to verify whether gunshots are fired given the video surveillance capabilities combined with the gun sensors — but that’s exactly the opposite of what happens. CPD gets away with playing dumb when it comes to chasing around shotspotter technology. At this point, it seems like the AI has already completely taken over policing. Equity — right? Ha.

Interestingly enough, Shotspotter’s accuracy has been so heavily questioned that the cities of San Antonio, TX and Charlotte, NC actually cancelled their contracts with Shotspotter. They found it to be “too costly” for what they were getting — so I’m sure they ended up replacing it with another useless piece of technology that doesn’t produce much of anything aside from wild chases around the city and possible arrests that rely on sketchy data to begin with. However, in the state of Illinois, Shotspotter reigns as king. Given the gun problems in Chicago, I can’t emphasize enough just how intentional I think much of this really is. It perpetuates an endless cycle of repeat offenders and younger kids who are pressured into partaking in gun-related activities given the conditions of where they live and the lack of support systems they have within their communities. I know this might come as a shock to people on the North Side, but police aren’t actually there to “protect and serve” much of anything or anyone.

Predictive Policing

Since 2012, CPD has relied on a statistical model that predicts someone’s likelihood of becoming a “Party to Violence” (PTV), or be involved as either a victim or offender of a violent crime. “The model, developed in collaboration with the Illinois Institute of Technology, was initially called the Strategic Subject List (SSL) and was later revised and renamed the Crime and Victimization Risk Model (CVRM). Apparently, the model was “quietly” decommissioned in by the CPD in 2019. Naturally, this CVRM was “meant to play a key role in CPD’s new Strategic Decision and Support Centers (SDSCs), “real time crime centers,” which are now located in all but two of Chicago’s 22 districts. Officers can also view at-risk individuals by the CVRM on a phone app.” Fantastic.

According to the Illinois Institute of Technology, individuals with the “highest CVRM risk scores, about one in three will be involved in a shooting incident within 18 months of the classification.” Interestingly enough, the PTV model’s developers claim that it does not take race and other social factors into account, but it’s modeled on historical arrest data that’s skewed based on biased policing practices that directly had to do with racial aspects. It’s just funny how they warp words to make it seem like things have changed, when all they’ve really done is upgrade the mentality and approach to an AI system based on their own shit beliefs. Pardon my French, but I’m feeling quite blunt today.

chicagosurveillance.com

Let’s take a look at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s “Fact Sheet” on Crime and Victimization Risk Models. Important note: the completed research program was done under a grant from the US Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Chicago Police Department.

https://home.chicagopolice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/FACT-SHEET-Crime-and-Victimization-Risk-Model-1.pdf

It’s interesting — isn’t it? Without addressing any other privacy concerns or serious room for error — the program’s seemingly “compassionate” tone likens itself to some kind of savior…they’ll swoop in and save you from becoming a victim of gun crimes. Really — is that so? How’s that working out? What forms of assistance can be provided to those living in dangerous areas? All I’m seeing is more crime — more violence and more cases that go unsolved. For the record, please don’t mistake what I’m saying as a cry for more people to go to jail. I’m just wondering when there will be any kind of justice for 3 year olds and elderly people who are gunned down in the midst of an ongoing street war — cause I have yet to see it.

https://home.chicagopolice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/FACT-SHEET-Crime-and-Victimization-Risk-Model-1.pdf

Note: they go out of their way to say that they don’t utilize social media when weighing out someone’s risk or threat level — but that’s because the Chicago Police Department has an entirely different social media operation that’s been going on since at least the George Floyd protests. Not a huge fan of The Intercept, but they give a pretty decent explanation of the program here. I’ll be looking into it further in the coming weeks.

On the privacy and legal concerns: “In addition [to the above information], there are concerns that the CVRM unfairly targets subjects who are involved in petty crimes, by weighing connections with co-arrestees. A major concern around CPD’s use of PTV modeling, as with most of the department’s uses of technology, is its secrecy. An anonymized version of the SSL was released in 2017, five years after its initial development, after a legal battle with the Sun Times [please note that most of these “legal battles” are over minute details and are somewhat performative, because the Chicago press corps rarely speaks out on the root issues within the city — if they did, they’d be barred from entering City Hall]. A spokesperson for the CPD claimed that PTV scores were not being used for law enforcement purposes, yet this turned out to be false. The CPD also told the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that data from the PTV models was not being shared, yet OIG found that CPD was in fact sharing this data with multiple public agencies, including the State’s Attorney Office, which may have used SSL scores to aid in prosecutions. This last point is particularly worrying, since individuals are given an SSL score if they are arrested, even without charge or found guilty of any crime.”

Given all of the information on the total awareness surveillance apparatus in the city of Chicago, can you understand why people are so frustrated? How is it possible that people just “vanish” when we have state-of-the-art cameras that are watching everything, at all times?

In Closing

If you’re still with me, I hope this all makes sense. I find that a lot of reports on missing people fail to include the broader picture. It’s not news to most of you, I’m sure, but things are usually reported as a one-off…”A young woman goes missing in a bad neighborhood” is ultimately what we’re left with. Sorry — that’s not enough for me. It’s not enough for the families and friends of these people who continue to go missing. There’s a reason people don’t want to talk about what happens to those who go missing — because it’s fu***ng scary. Whether it’s a larger trafficking ring or “family business,” people are scared to talk to the cops because there’s such little trust — and rightfully so. I get it. It just shows you how deep the issues in our society really are — and it’s unacceptable, for me, that people can just enjoy the life in the city without giving two seconds of thought to those who suddenly vanish. I’m not okay with it — I never will be. We’re one city — yet it couldn’t feel any further from that these days. The South Side is irrelevant to the North Side, and it’s designed to be that way. It’s just sad to see citizens perpetuate that segregation. These kinds of stories are the ones I want to tell as best as I can — not as some virtue signal, but because maybe, just maybe, someone out there knows what’s going on.

The Chicago Police Department’s Missing Persons List — May 29, 2022

In the off chance that someone happens to see this article and knows about any of the people below — I wanted to share some of the more recent missing persons that have been reported to the Chicago Police Department. Call 911 or 312–747–8274. Hell, you can reach out to me and I’ll pass the word along.

Armani Ballard, 13 years old — Last contact 5/26

Armani Ballard, 13, was last seen on May 26th, 2022 at 7PM near the vicinity of 11500 S. Lafayette in Chicago. He has a medical condition which requires daily medication and it’s unknown what he was last wearing. He frequents the areas of 6600 S. Greenwood, 6400 S. Loomis, and the area of 11500–11900 S. Michigan to Eggleston.

Paradise Brand, 14, Last contact 5/14

Paradise Brand was last seen near California Ave. and Division St. (this is literally so close to me — I know there are cameras on every single block). She also frequented the area of 5700 S. Michigan Ave in Chicago.

Antwanette McQueen, 13, Last seen 5/25

Antwanette McQueen was last seen on the 5900 block of N. Ravenwood in Chicago. The missing girl has no shoes and no jacket.

Jayleen Rivera, 14, Last contact 5/14

Jayleen Rivera, 14, was last seen on Friday, May 13th on the 4100 block of W. Hirsch St. She was last seen wearing all navy blue clothing with white shoes.

Madison Harris, 15, Last contact 5/4

Madison was last seen on Wednesday, May 4th, when she fled from her residence on te 1600 block of N. Drake Ave in Chicago. She was last seen wearing a grey sweatshirt with black shoes.

Dariana Meza-Jimenez, 21, last contact 3/5

Dariana was last seen in the vicinity of the 3100 block of W. 41st place on the Southwest Side of Chicago. She was wearing a white t-shirt and black pajama pants. She may be in need of medical attention.

As I was about to post this photo, I discovered that Karina Pena’s body was recovered from the Chicago River on April 23rd, 2022. She was last seen in the 4300 block of South Wood Street — and then they found her in the river a couple of weeks later. No answers. Just that she’d been found dead. I could go on and on and on about cases just like this — just a small blip in the news cycle. No analysis — just a documentary released years later about all of the missing people.

https://home.chicagopolice.org/cpd-missing-karina-pena-31/https://home.chicagopolice.org/cpd-missing-karina-pena-31/

Pardon my french, but what the fuck is going on?

Stay safe y’all.

Til next time,

-Aly

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