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NYPD gang database violates civil rights of Black and Hispanic youth: report

The New York Daily News - 9/5/2023

The NYPD gang database violates the civil rights of Black and Hispanic young people much like the department’s much-maligned “Stop and Frisk” policy, a new report released Tuesday shows.

The gang database, which the NYPD’s own inspector general found fault with, “typecast minority youths as gang members without evidence, putting them at risk of false arrest and wrongful deportation,” according to the new report “Guilt by Association” by the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

The report comes a few days after the NAACP filed a new lawsuit against the department, compelling the NYPD to release more information about its gang database that it withheld during a prior Freedom of Information Law request and suit.

The STOP report’s deep dive into gang database protocols and procedures and past reports on the issue shows that police are quick to add names to the database, but slow to remove them, even if all the person did was wish a known gang member a happy birthday on social media.

Being outside late and wearing the wrong colors is also a problem. If a person lives in the same public housing complex as accused gang members, the NYPD may say they frequent a “known criminal group location” (strike one) while wearing gang colors (strike two), which is enough for officers to add them to the database,” the report notes. “(The) NYPD can also add individuals to the database based on two “independent reliable sources,” but officers decide who’s independent and reliable, and no one checks their judgment.”

What the police call the Criminal Group Database contained about 16,000 names as of April. 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, NYPD officials said.

While the NYPD Inspector General called for better safeguards and fleshed out criteria on how names are added to the list the STOP report determined that “even the most rigorous safeguards would be insufficient to mitigate the full range of harms that these databases pose.

“They must be eliminated in their entirety,” the report notes.

Elani Manis, research director for STOP said the report shows how “it is alarmingly easy to be added to a police database based on nonsense, non-criminal criteria, and difficult or impossible to be taken off.

“The result is bloated databases that produce no known public safety benefit—nothing at all to outweigh the grievous harm they do to young people who are added to databases without any evidence,” she said.

On Friday, the NAACP filed a new lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court, calling on a judge to order the NYPD to release information about the gang database that they refused to give in a FOIL request sent in 2021 and in prior years.

“(The) NYPD did not respond to the 2021 FOIL Request until seventeen months after it was submitted,” the lawsuit notes. “On March 8, 2023—after dozens of follow-up phone calls and emails and two in-person visits to One Police Plaza—the NYPD finally responded to the 2021 FOIL Request by producing a limited set of redacted documents in response to the first five requests, while declining to produce any records in response to the sixth request.”

The first five requests were about demographic data of people in the gang database, the lawsuit notes. The sixth request, which the NYPD shot down entirely, sought information on the agencies that the NYPD shared the database information with.

Community advocate groups have been demanding information on the gang database for more than five years, demanding information as to who is in the database and the guidelines for adding and removing people from it.

The NYPD holds firm that the database “is a valuable precision policing tool that helps keep the city safe.”

A request for comment about the STOP report was not immediately returned.

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