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New York City Gang Database Increases 70 Percent Since 2014

by Derek Gilna

Concerns are being raised about a 70 percent increase in the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) gang database revealed in a recent public records request by CUNY School of Law professor Babe Howell. Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, the NYPD has added tens of thousands people to that database, of whom 99 percent were classified as non-white.

It’s more than a little ironic that de Blasio—who has often clashed with the NYPD over his criticism of the police department’s use-of-force and even been confronted with dozens of officers turning their back on him at an officer’s funeral—has presided over such an explosive increase over the past four years.

According to Howell, as of February 2018, there were 42,334 people in that database, with 2,706 additional gang members listed as inactive.

All of this has occurred while New York City crime rates have steadily dropped, and gang-related crime has declined to less than 1% of that declining total.

A key issue with the increased membership in the database is the broad definition of what constitutes a “gang,” which according to the NYPD consists of a group of persons with a formal or informal structure that includes designated leaders and members who engage in or are suspected to engage in unlawful conduct. According to the NAACP, that definition appears to be overbroad.

According to Marne Lenox, an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, “That definition, to me, is incredibly problematic. 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.”

Lenox noted that the NYPD appeared to be concerned about young people’s use of social media platforms like SnapChat and Instagram, and staying out late. Lenox continued, “The police are essentially criminalizing friendships. 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.”

Legal Aid considers the database just another form of racial profiling: “We knew that since (2012), more and more people would be fed into the gang database,” said Anthony Posada, supervising attorney with Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit, (generally) black and Latino youth all across New York City.”

According to Posada, the data “confirms to us what we were suspicious about and wanting to know more about. It is confirmation that there are these active program … 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.” 


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