ACLU Alleges Misuse of Boston Police Data on Gangs

Motorcycle officers with the Boston Police Department on patrol on Veterans Day in 2007. (Photo credit: Paul Keleher/Wikipedia)

BOSTON (CN) – A coalition of civil rights groups brought a complaint Thursday demanding information on how immigration authorities use the Boston Police Department’s gang database to target black and Latino residents.

Filed in Suffolk Superior Court with help from the law firm Anderson & Kreiger, the lawsuit seeks the release of information about how the Boston Police Department uses its gang database, including information related to the demographics of the people alleged to be gang members; its accuracy and effectiveness at lowering violent crime rates; whether and how people designated as gang members may challenge their inclusion in the database; and ICE access to gang allegations made by Boston Police or Boston Public Schools employees.

“In Boston, we call our city a sanctuary for immigrants, but behind the scenes, under cover of secrecy, local law enforcement profiling systems allow young people to be targeted and deported, even when they haven’t been suspected of engaging in criminal activity,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a press call this afternoon.

Because Boston police use a point system to determine whether to include someone in its “Gang Assessment Database,” according to the complaint, it possible to designate “gang affiliation” without any allegation of violence or criminal activity.

The ACLU pointed to one example where police detained a youth after he had accumulated “points” based entirely on instances in which BPD or school police reported that he was with other young people whom they allege to be gang members.

He was detained, despite a pending application for lawful status and even though he had never been arrested or charged with any crime or juvenile offense. Another youth currently in detention accumulated his points by being the victim of an assault in school, and because he was seen leaving school and hanging out with other youth who are alleged to be gang members, according to the complaint.

“Behind the scenes, local law enforcements profiling system allow young people to be targeted and deported, even when they are not suspected of criminal activity,” Rose said. “Being labeled a gang member can have catastrophic consequences in a young person’s life.”

The ACLU of Massachusetts is the lead plaintiff, having brought the case alongside the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, Greater Boston Legal Services, Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, Muslim Justice League, National Lawyers Guild and Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project.

In January, a high school student in East Boston was detained and eventually deported based on a police report that wrongfully identified the student as a gang member. The false identification led to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents investigating his legal status, and ultimately deporting him.

That deportation was followed by a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court in June against Boston Public Schools seeking the release of information about the school system’s cooperation with ICE.

“For years, these databases have been used to make secret determinations about young people of color, even though little is known about how the database system works or who is profiled by it,” said ACLU attorney Adriana Lafaille. “All too often, we’ve seen the consequences of these secretive designations in immigration court, where it’s often too late for young people to stand up for themselves against false allegations of gang membership. We are suing to obtain this information because Boston must engage in a long-deferred conversation about the discriminatory role gang databases play in policing, and we look forward to obtaining the information we seek towards that end.”

The challengers originally filed a request under the state’s public records law on May 21, 2018, but the city, its police department and the Boston Regional Intelligence Center failed to provide an adequate response, according to the complaint.

Representatives for the city and the police department have not responded to an email seeking comment.

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