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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Activists Sue California Attorney General To Block Use Of Gang Database

Speaker 1: 00:00 The California gang database known as Cal gang is now the subject of a lawsuit brought by community groups in San Diego and Southern California. After requesting earlier this year, that's the state comply with required audits of the database. The lawsuit is now demanding it, the state's listing of alleged gang members and a database has been criticized by activists and lawmakers alike for the mistakes and outdated information it contains and being listed on the Cal gang database can have real world consequences, even for people. Who've never been gang members joining me as KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. And Claire. Welcome. Thank you. These community groups say they're suing because the Cal gang database is not being regulated by the state. According to the requirements of a law that was passed in 2017, what sort of regulation is required under their law? Speaker 2: 00:55 Right? So the law, uh, AB 90, which was written by assemblywoman Shirley Webber, after this scathing audit came out the year before about the gang database that found it had lots of errors in it, including that famous fact, now that it included, um, several children who are under the age of one. Um, so some of the laws required regulations are that the database is now overseen by the California department of justice and they can block access to police departments. If they find the departments are misusing it. Another requirement is that the DOJ do regular audits of the database. And that was supposed to start before January, 2020, that audit hasn't happened yet. And so that's what this lawsuit is over the group. Say attorney general, Javier Bissera, isn't overseeing the database the way he's supposed to. And so it should be shut down until his office can properly regulate it. Speaker 1: 01:49 Consequences. Could someone face by being listed on law enforcement's gang database? Speaker 2: 01:55 Well, so it's important to know that being in Cal gang isn't a crime, but it it's critics say it creates an association with someone in the database as being in the gang. So every entry has a photo descriptions of the person's clothing, um, scars and any tattoos. They might have the names and addresses of family and friends, and then information from the person's social media accounts. And not surprisingly, there are far more young, black and Latino men in it than other groups, especially people who live in lower income areas. So if police stop a person and see he's in the gang database, they might treat him more harshly. Um, and police can use the gang label to justify, stopping and questioning someone in the database. And then if that person is arrested, prosecutors might increase charges against them. And one other thing is that a state audit found that the database had been used for employment and military related screenings. Speaker 2: 02:54 So it can have a variety of different impacts. Cal gang has been for a long time for being used as cover for racial profiling of people who live in certain neighborhoods. How do police decide who is listed on the database? Well, it can simply just be that you are stopped in a known gang area, which includes much of areas like Southeast San Diego, where, where people live, or if you're wearing a certain color that's associated with a gang, or that you are stopped while associating with another person who is already in the database, but that could, you know, just be a family member or a neighbor or a friend, just because you were say, you know, riding in a car with someone that police say is in a gang, doesn't mean that you are also in a gang. Can people challenge being listed on the gang database as of 2017, uh, that they can. Speaker 2: 03:52 So a lot of that year required police to inform people if they were in the database and provided a legal avenues so that they could challenge that inclusion. But, but that hasn't really been working out so well. So far earlier this year, our partner, I knew source found that many local law enforcement agencies might not be sending all of their required notification letters to tell people they're in the database. And a year after the law went into effect, they did a report and they found that there were only 53 requests to be removed from the database. And only 11 were granted. And that's out of almost 100,000 people in the database. Now, recently the state stopped all law enforcement from using gang database information provided by the LAPD. Why is that? Well, that was after an internal audit done by the Los Angeles police department found that some of their officers were using the database incorrectly. Speaker 2: 04:51 They found that at least 59 times officers had falsified records to add people into the database. So the DOJ, um, first of all, blocked LA from using the database and then said that all law enforcement couldn't use information that LAPD had added because it might be incorrect. Now back to this lawsuit that was announced yesterday, is the lawsuit trying to stop law enforcement from keeping any record of gang members in California? Well, specifically what it's looking for is for courts to put an injunction on the database until the DOJ establishes a process for better regulating and managing it. So the lawyer who filed the suit says once that process is established and a judge signs off on it, then they could use the database. Again. I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger, sir. And Claire. Thank you. Thank you.

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San Diego activists argue the database, known as CalGang, includes many people who are not actually gang members and unfairly targets people of color who live in lower-income communities.
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