[Pnews] New York Gang Database Expanded by 70 Percent Under Mayor Bill de Blasio

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 11 14:02:48 EDT 2018


  New York Gang Database Expanded by 70 Percent Under Mayor Bill de Blasio

Alice Speri - June 11, 2018

_The New York Police Department_ has quietly expanded its gang database 
under Mayor Bill de Blasio, targeting tens of thousands of young people 
of color for increased surveillance even in the absence of criminal conduct.

New Yorkers have been added to the NYPD gang database under de Blasio at 
a rate of 342 people per month, nearly three times the rate of the prior 
decade. That’s despite both historically low crime levels and the fact 
that gang-motivated crime makes up less than 1 percent of all reported 
crime in New York City.

New details about who the NYPD includes in the vast database were 
revealed in response to a public records request by CUNY School of Law 
professor Babe Howell, who shared the information with The Intercept. 
The data reveals that as of February 2018, there were 42,334 people in 
the database — a 70 percent increase since de Blasio took office in 
January 2014. Ninety-nine percent of those added over that four-year 
period were not white. The NYPD also maintains a database of “inactive” 
gang members that includes 2,706 people.

The NYPD differentiates between crime committed to advance the interests 
of a gang — about 0.1 percent of all reported crime in the city between 
2013 and 2017, according to Howell’s analysis — and crime committed by 
alleged gang members but not on behalf of gangs. According to the NYPD 
statistics, the latter category of crime doubled between 2013 and 
mid-2017, but still accounts for only 1.7 percent of all reported crime.

But the results of a separate Freedom of Information Law request suggest 
that the NYPD’s definition of what constitutes a gang is broad, vague, 
and disconnected from evidence of criminal activity.

      *Criminalizing Urban Youth*

In two presentations released to legal groups and obtained by The 
Intercept, the department defines a gang as “a group of persons with a 
formal or informal structure that includes designated leaders and 
members, that engage in or are suspected to engage in unlawful conduct.”

“That definition, to me, is incredibly problematic,” said Marne Lenox, 
an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the 
groups behind that records request. “They’re not even talking 
necessarily about a group of individuals who have already been found to 
have engaged in particular conduct. They’re talking about a group of 
people who may not have actually done anything criminal.”

While it’s not clear whom the presentations are intended for or how the 
department uses them, the slides list sweeping criteria to identify gang 
members — including “staying out late” and “changes in behavior,” as 
well as the use of video games, SnapChat, and Instagram — that could 
easily apply to most teenagers and young adults.

“The police are essentially criminalizing friendships,” Lenox said. “And 
really, we’re talking about kids. We’re talking about kids who attend 
school together, kids who grew up in the same neighborhood, who play 
basketball together, who communicate with their friends on social media.”

In one slide, the NYPD lists organized gangs as well as “crews,” which 
the department defines as “a group of people associated or classed 
together: company, set, team, dang group, gang,” with “no initiations” 
and “no consequences if you leave.” Another slide notes that “younger 
gang members are often receiving ‘training’ while incarcerated, making 
them better criminals when they re-enter the community.”

In other slides, the NYPD lists colors associated with major gangs: 
black, gold, yellow, red, purple, green, blue, white, brown, khaki, 
gray, orange, and lime green. “I don’t think there’s a single color that 
exists on the color spectrum that would not fit into one of those 
potential gangs,” said Lenox.

Together, the new details about the gang database and the two 
presentations offer a glimpse of a sweeping surveillance effort by the 
NYPD, which has been collecting and cataloguing information about mostly 
young men of color with virtually no oversight or public scrutiny. On 
Wednesday, the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety will hold a 
hearing about the city’s gang policing practices after dozens of 
community and advocacy groups demanded more transparency 
from the NYPD. A rally against the department’s large gang raids is 
planned ahead of the hearing.

“What we know based on the FOIL request shows how important it is to 
demand transparency about what we don’t know,” said Howell, who first 
exposed details about the New York gang database in 2013. “There’s no 
crime to justify it. … It’s just a new way to profile the usual suspects 
that insulates them from public scrutiny and public approbation.”

Neither the NYPD nor the mayor’s office responded to The Intercept’s 
requests for comment.

Gang databases nationwide have increasingly come under scrutiny, 
particularly as President Trump’s exaggerated denunciations of the MS-13 
gang have raised skepticism about the broad use of the label, and after 
immigration authorities 
have used gang databases to target undocumented individuals for 
deportation regardless of their criminal history. As these databases 
have grown more common, so have reports of the many errors they contain: 
CalGang, a database widely used in California, listed 42 infants under 
the age of 1 as active gang members 

So far, the NYPD has not made public the criteria it uses to add 
individuals to the database or details of how the list is used, shared, 
purged, or corrected. Individuals do not receive notification when they 
are added to the database, and there is no clear process to contest 
one’s inclusion in it. It’s also not clear to what extent the database 
has contributed to a series of large gang raids 
in recent years that have seen hundreds of NYPD and federal officers 
descend on public housing projects to make dozens of arrests. As The 
Intercept has reported 
the raids have led to mass gang indictments in which prosecutors have 
used conspiracy statutes 
<https://theintercept.com/2018/06/07/rico-gang-prosecution-nyc/> to 
punish entire communities for the crimes of a few. In 2016 alone, the 
NYPD conducted 41 “gang takedowns,” leading to more than 1,000 arrests. 
“We’re picking them off one by one, in many cases, dozens by dozens,” 
Commissioner James O’Neill said a January 2017 press conference 

As the NYPD gang database has ballooned in recent years and its impact 
on city residents has become evident, several organizations have filed 
public records requests that the NYPD has mostly stonewalled.

The Legal Aid Society, which along with a number of community 
organizations had demanded the NYPD release details of how the database 
is maintained and purged, has filed an administrative appeal and 
threatened litigation after the department failed to comply with the 
request. Legal Aid also launched a website 
<https://legalaidfoil.backspace.com/> to help New Yorkers file public 
records requests to learn whether they are listed in the database. 
Separately, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Center for 
Constitutional Rights also filed an administrative appeal after the NYPD 
rejected the bulk of two requests seeking information on safeguards to 
the constitutional rights of individuals included in the database.

“We knew that since the announcement of Operation Crew Cut, more and 
more people would be fed into the gang database,” said Anthony Posada, 
supervising attorney with Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit, referring 
to the NYPD program that effectively launched the department’s war on 
gangs in 2012. “Specifically, black and Latino youth all across New York 

“[The data] confirms to us what we were suspicious about and wanting to 
know more about,” Posada added. “It is confirmation that there are these 
active programs … that really destroy the ability to build community 
trust — that are secretive, that are unconstitutional, that label people 
without an ability for them to be removed from that data.”

      *“Stop-and-Frisk 2.0” *

Critics of the gang database say it’s no coincidence that the NYPD’s 
emphasis on gang policing intensified just as the city faced a 
class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 
department’s stop-and-frisk program — which at its height in 2011 saw 
684,330 people stopped in one year. In 2013, a federal judge ruled stop 
and frisk unconstitutional. But by then, the NYPD had doubled its 
anti-gang units and begun monitoring suspects’ Facebook and YouTube 
activity — the first steps toward what has since expanded into a 
sprawling and sophisticated gang surveillance program.

“Before the gang database, it was actually called the gang book,” said 
Vidal Guzman, an organizer with JustLeadershipUSA, a prison reform group 
run by formerly incarcerated people. “Every precinct had basically a 
gang book, knowing who was who around a neighborhood, who was doing 
what, who was a leader.”

“The gang database, I call it the stop and frisk 2.0 because it just 
evolved,” added Guzman, who grew up in poverty and was first 
incarcerated when he was 16 years old. “If we can’t stop these 
individuals every moment, we’re just going to create a database where we 
are able to target the people that we can’t stop, and still see what 
they are doing without them even knowing.”

More than 90 percent of those stopped under stop and frisk were black 
and Latino; likewise, the NYPD gang database overwhelmingly targets 
nonwhite New Yorkers. According to the NYPD’s categories, nearly 66 
percent of those added to the database between December 2013 and 
February 2018 were black and 33 percent were Hispanic. Blacks and 
Latinos respectively make up 25 percent and 27 percent of the city’s 
residents. Over the same four-year period, only 0.8 percent of the 
17,452 people added to the list were white.

“They’re using ostensibly nonracial criteria — like the style of dress, 
neighborhood, where you hang out — to profile the very same communities 
that they were over-policing under the stop-and-frisk regime, in the 
absence of any criminality,” said Howell.

“The NYPD’s gang takedowns are the functional equivalent of the 
department’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policing tactic, and 
they’re regularly criminalizing innocuous behavior, much like 
stop-and-frisk policing used to do,” echoed Lenox. “None of this is to 
say that stop and frisk is over; but to the extent that the NYPD is 
touting the extraordinary decline in the number of people who are 
stopped by police, it’s incredibly interesting that as those stops 
decrease, the number of people identified as gang members increases 

De Blasio, who came into office promising a “new progressive era” for 
New York City, has benefited from both falling crime rates and the 
declining numbers of police stops that followed the stop-and-frisk 
ruling. But critics say that the mayor continues to support policies 
— like the NYPD’s so-called precision policing and its sweeping gang 
investigations — that criminalize poor communities of color and 
contribute to mass incarceration.

“What we are seeing in the de Blasio era is that he has not only 
continued Bloomberg’s policies, but he has actually made them much more 
Orwellian and much more secretive,” said Josmar Trujillo, a community 
organizer who has advocated against the NYPD’s mass gang raids.

Howell warned against limiting demands for transparency to the gang 
database, highlighting the department’s shifting tactics. “If we say, 
you can’t keep a gang database, they will simply call it an intelligence 
database. Or move it into some algorithmic, predictive model and throw 
everything from everywhere into it,” said Howell. “What we really need 
to think about is, What is all this surveillance that the NYPD is doing? 
What is the limit on that surveillance?”

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