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NYPD should tighten rules for adding names to gang database and improve rules for seeking their removal, says IG report

The New York Daily News - 4/19/2023

New York City cops need stricter procedures for adding names to their controversial gang database, says a new report from the NYPD Inspector General, who found it’s not clear why some people — including teenagers — are named in the file.

Names often end up in the database without any documentation, the 91-page Inspector General report says. Appearing in a social media post with known gang members or using certain emojis can be all it takes for some people to end up in the database, the report found.

You may not know that your name is included in the data — the NYPD “has historically not notified individuals in the database of their inclusion,” the report notes. And if you do find out your name is in the database, there’s no process to ask that it be removed, the Inspector General found.

“Uncertainty and fear” about being in the database “decreases public confidence in NYPD and strains community-police relations,” the report adds.

What the police call the Criminal Group Database contains about 16,000 names. That’s down from about 34,000 names in 2014, when the NYPD said it began reviewing each entry to see if they warranted inclusion.

The NYPD in a statement said the database “is a valuable precision policing tool that helps keep the city safe.”

“It provides useful information to investigators regarding street gangs that engage in a wide variety of crimes,” the statement added, “including shootings, robberies, assaults, human trafficking, and other acts of violence.”

Also, the NYPD said it “is pleased” the IG report found no evidence the database causes “harm to any individual or group of individuals.”

But finding evidence of such harm is not easy, the Inspector General said. It noted in an announcement about the report that the NYPD may list someone as a gang member in other databases or documents, “therefore any harm that may arise is not attributable directly, or solely, to CGD.”

Opponents of the database say it remains today what it has been since it started in 2013: an unjust digital dragnet that targets Black and Latino New Yorkers, including pre-teens, with far-reaching consequences effecting employment, education and housing.

Anthony Posada, a supervising lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, said the database should be abolished, as has been done in Portland, Ore.

“Further investment in this irredeemable project would be a step backward,” Posada said. “We need investment in communities not investment in failed, racist, guilt-by-association policing.”

In 2021, Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Antonio Reynoso introduced legislation to ban the database.

The Inspector General report also found a lack of procedural policies that echoed activists’ longstanding concerns.

Besides finding a lack of formal written policies on the use of the database — including guidance about what criteria warrants someone’s name being added — the report also noted that some names are included in the database even when records of their arrests have been sealed and should have been off limits.

Kids as young as 11 or 12 were once on the database — but their names have since been removed.

Posada said the report bolsters the need for a City Council bill that would abolish the database and prevent the NYPD from creating a replacement.

“The database right now as it stands, is overtly racist, procedurally indefensible and it makes little to no contribution to public safety,” Posada said.

The report recommended the NYPD publish a statement on its website within 180 days about how the database helps the department improve public safety and reduce violent crime.

It also said the department should clearly specify what evidence is necessary to add someone to the database and list the specific outside agencies the department may share the data with.

The report also recommended an extra layer of review for adding minors to the list, including a special review panel, notifying the minor’s parents or guardians within 60 days, and creating a process for minors to appeal their inclusion in the list. The IG also proposed requiring review of each entry every 12 months for minors and every 18 months for adults.

Investigators also recommended the NYPD increase staff in charge of administering the database, and draft a policy to generally grant Freedom of Information requests from individuals requesting information about their placement on the database.

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