CalGang, a state database of suspected gang members, comes under fire following an investigation revealing falsified entries.
The investigation began when a mother in the San Fernando Valley brought a letter she received regarding her son to a local police station. The letter explained that authorities added her son to the CalGang database. The action labeled him a gang member to law enforcement. The department sends such letters to the parents of minors entered into the database.
She contested and police launched an investigation that led to the suspension of a dozen officers.
The investigation included a reviewal of body camera footage as well as the squad car recordings. Internal affairs found discrepancies between the footage and the information officers provided in their report.
Subsequently, their investigation explored further misconduct from other officers falsifying information in the CalGang database.
“My first reaction really was, I’m pleased that the L.A.P.D. is finally seriously investigating these kinds of complaints,” said Sean Garcia-Leys, a lawyer with Urban Peace Institute, speaking with the New York Times. But, he added, there’s a broader issue at play with CalGang. “Police are being asked to guess if they are gang members based on a brief interaction.”
Police officers don’t follow a strict protocol when regarding potential additions to CalGang. Instead, they rely on subjective tests imposed on largely young, minority men to determine gang status. For example, police asked one of Garcia-Leys’s clients to insult a local gang. When he refused, police added him to the database.
California law enforcement use the database to inform their interactions with drivers and pedestrians. Individuals entered into the database experience greater police scrutiny. As a result, they encounter police stops with greater frequency or face heftier punishments for even low-level crime based on their presumed affiliation.
However, law enforcement leadership in this instance focused solely on officers falsifying information, rather than the efficacy of the database itself.