Law Enforcement Database Tracks Gang Members Statewide/Illustration by Tom McKeith Law Enforcement Database Tracks Gang Members Statewide Illustration by Tom McKeith

or more lands the subject in the gang database, but only temporarily. Records are purged every 60 months if they aren't updated with activities that reflect gang membership.

"Some kids straighten out their lives, have babies, move on," Goodwin said.

Massachusetts looked at states like California that have deployed similar systems. Massachusetts decided to partner with xFact, a local software company, to develop an in-house system. "We decided it would be best to acquire a contractor to develop the system to align closely with other current applications so they have a similar look and feel to reduce overhead for training," Varano said.

It's Just a Tool

Goodwin acknowledged that the database will be challenged by defense attorneys and others. He said it's imperative that the information is handled carefully.

"You can't give 10 people in the department access to entering the information because you want the information scrutinized before it goes in to make sure it's credible," Goodwin said. "You don't want every cop out there stopping every kid with an attitude and saying he's a gang member. In my department, there will be one guy with access."

Goodwin said adding people to the database should be done for the right reasons, not just because it's there. "It won't be for a guy smoking a joint on the beach; it will be for shootings and other, major offenses."

Other states have received criticism for building huge databases of gang members, many of whom were not actively in gangs. Former California attorney general and current treasurer Bill Lockyer criticized the state's CAL/GANG database because it had more than 100,000 names in it. Lockyer said the database shouldn't be used to decide whether a person is dangerous or should be arrested.

Boston College law professor Robert Bloom said information in the database is data police have anyway. "Police operate based on uncertainties. Probable cause or reasonable suspicion is not something precise," Bloom said, "so to the extent they're providing information that may be useful, in terms of law enforcement, I think it's useful information."

Goodwin hopes other police departments take the system seriously and feed it good, credible information. "In theory, it's fantastic. It opens a lot of doors. Say I'm working a homicide and go in [to the database] and say, 'Where's this guy been?' If they're dumping information into it in Springfield, I'll have access to it."

He says it could take longer to develop than expected because of the lack of manpower plaguing most police departments and the massive amount of data being entered by the Department of Correction.

"We'll see if departments make the commitment to putting the information in. In my department, I know I'm going to be wearing three hats," Goodwin said. "I'm hoping it does take off because the last five or six years, everything is about information sharing. And it works -- when it's done right."

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor