California Use of Faulty Gang Database Drops — but not in All Cases

SAN DIEGO (CN) — California law enforcement’s use of a faulty database to track alleged gang members has dropped significantly, and more than half the names on it have been removed since 2012, according to a Monday report by the Urban Peace Institute.

According to the Executive Summary of the 40-page report, “Analysis of the Attorney General’s Annual Report on CalGang for 2018”;

“The total number of records in CalGang has dropped from 201,094 in 2012 to 88,670 in 2018. That is a 56% decrease in six years.

“Reform efforts have not substantially changed the disproportionate rate at which Black and Latino men are labeled as gang members. Black people are overrepresented in CalGang by 362% and Latinos are overrepresented by 168%.” The two groups combined accounted for 88.5% of the new records entered into CalGang last year.

“There are large disparities in the use of CalGang by different law enforcement agencies. While 74% of user agencies (153 agencies) appear to have stopped adding records to CalGang, the top four agencies adding new records in 2018 accounted for 69.3% of all new entries.” Those top four agencies are Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff’s Department, San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and Riverside County Probation Department.

“Of the 208 agencies who added records to CalGang, 175 agencies labeled no minors as gang members in the 2018 reporting period. In contrast, 25% of the people whose name and infor­mation were added by the Santa Ana Police Department in the same period were minors.”

The report also found that of the 53 requests for removal by people included in the 6,000 names added to CalGang last year, only 11 requests were granted.

“The fact that the number of people tracked in CalGang is half what it used to be is encouraging because it shows reforms intended to purge inaccurate data have had significant effects,” co-author Nicole Brown said in a statement.

“However, the evidence also suggests that the removal process is ineffective and that the large police departments who use CalGang the most have not significantly changed their practices,” she added.

San Diegan Tyrone Simmons filed one of the first legal challenges for his inclusion on CalGang last year, claiming he should have been removed because he had not been affiliated with a gang since his daughter was born more than a decade ago.

A 2017 law by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, requiring California police departments to notify adults they’ve been listed on CalGang prompted Simmons to challenge his designation.

Simmons lost in San Diego Superior Court when Judge Laura Parsky ruled that a “contact” Simmons had with police in 2013 required that he remain on the list until April 2019.

Parsky met with city attorneys in private to discuss privileged information she used in her decision. That information was never shared with Simmons or his attorney — a concern the Urban Peace Institute cited in its report.

Raising alarms about the inaccessibility of the removal process from the CalGang list, the Urban Peace Institute noted that fewer than 1% of the 6,000 people whose names were added to CalGang in 2018 made removal requests.

“The fact that only 11 requests were granted suggests that those who doubt the effectiveness of the removal process might be right,” the report states.

Citing anecdotal evidence from its experience representing a dozen of the 53 people who requested removal from CalGang last year, the Urban Peace Institute said most law enforcement agencies failed to even respond to initial requests for information.

Courts and their clerks also were ill-prepared to respond to petitions for removal, with clerks not knowing how to file the petitions in their computer systems, according to the report. And some judges allowed agencies to submit evidence beyond what was permitted by statute.

Evidence of racial profiling in California policing, plus the statistics noted in the Executive Summary, show that nonwhite citizens disproportionately suffer the harms of erroneous inclusion on the database.

“Even if we ignore the likely influence of implicit bias on who is tracked in CalGang, the use of race as an explicit factor in deciding who law enforcement officers will target for gang suppression will inevitably exaggerate the database’s racial disparities,” the report states.

Just over 18,500 records were purged from CalGang last year after expiring under the retention period. Records are purged only if the person has had no contact with law enforcement for the preceding five years.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra is reviewing final revisions the Department of Justice will make to CalGang regulations.

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