August 18, 2017
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California’s Gang Database Gets Less Secretive, But Problems Linger

By Ali Winston


Adults in California will now be notified if they’re listed in the state’s database of suspected gang members and affiliates, thanks to a new bill signed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill allows Californians to appeal for their name to be removed from CalGang. It also requires law enforcement agencies using the database to submit annual reports to the state Department of Justice.

Earlier this year, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reportingdetailed the myriad problems with CalGang. In some cases, unverified allegations of gang affiliation contained in the database led to criminal charges and inclusion in civil gang injunctions, which restrict someone’s ability to move and associate freely.

Until now, Californians had no way of knowing whether they were in the database or challenge their inclusion. Juveniles have been able to since 2013.

Hundreds of thousands of people are included in the database, which is based on arrest reports, social media posts and other law enforcement intelligence. Information in California’s gang database is accessible to law enforcement in 13 other states that use systems built off CalGang, as well as the FBI; the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to a report by The Intercept, U.S. immigration authorities use information from state gang databases and their own system to identify people for deportation – regardless of whether the gang intelligence is accurate or flawed.

A scathing review of CalGang released by the California State Auditor last month provided critical momentum in the effort to pass the new bill, which is the culmination of two years of work from various community organizations.

The state auditor found dozens of people included in CalGang without evidence sufficient to support gang ties, inadequate safeguards for privacy, improper use by law enforcement to dig up background on people for employment, and a widespread failure of major agencies like the Los Angeles Police Department and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department to notify juveniles and their guardians of CalGang inclusion or provide them a chance to appeal their documentation before being entered into the database.

Brown referenced the auditor’s report in his signing statement Wednesday.

“The CalGang database serves a very important role in dealing with gang activity in California. That said, in light of the recent findings by the California State Auditor, I believe substantive improvements are clearly in order,” Brown wrote.

However, the bill leaves untouched several problems with CalGang raised by Reveal’s reporting and the state auditor. Concerns about how California shares gang intelligence with Immigration and Customs Enforcement were not addressed by the new law or the auditor’s report, despite decades of sanctuary city ordinances across the state that limit local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with immigration authorities. No mention was made of the use of controversial biometric software, such as facial recognition, in conjunction with CalGang.

The bill also didn’t address a number of the auditor’s recommendations, including:

  • More frequent reporting on CalGang usage.
  • Comprehensive auditing of individual and gang records.
  • Establishing a technical advisory committee with the state Department of Justice.
  • Ensuring that CalGang’s secretive executive committee meet at least twice a year and are in compliance with state open meeting laws.
  • Requiring the more than 800 agencies that use the database to review their entries for accuracy.
  • Purging people from the database automatically if their files haven’t been updated for five years.

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 - Originally appeared at revealnews.org