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California AG Revokes Police Access to LAPD CalGang Data

The controversial database, which stores the names and information of nearly 80,000 suspected active gang members, has faced scrutiny over the accuracy of information imputed by some agencies.

by Anita Chabria, Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times / July 15, 2020
Brian Allen was on the CalGang database, though he is not a gang member. In 2017, he was driving with a friend when police pulled him over for expired tags. A year later, Allen received a letter informing him he'd been identified as a gang associate. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — As a scandal over false and inaccurate gang identifications by Los Angeles police officers widens, California's top cop Tuesday stopped law enforcement agencies around the state from using information provided by the L.A. Police Department.

On Tuesday, California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra announced he had "revoked access to CalGang records generated by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)."

CalGang is used by law enforcement agencies across the state to store names and personal details of nearly 80,000 people suspected of being active gang members or possibly associating with them but has long been controversial.

In 2016, a state audit found that CalGang was riddled with questionable entries and errors such as the inclusion of year-old children. Advocates have charged that it represents racial profiling with little proof to back up the allegations of gang membership. The majority of those in the database are Black and brown men.

For nearly two years, community advocates and law enforcement representatives have wrestled to define new rules for running the system that would be less subjective. Critics of the system said it relied on interpretations by officers of clothing or neighborhoods they deemed to be associated with gangs. Law enforcement argued that their expertise in identifying gang members should be trusted. Because the system is secretive and has no civilian oversight, determining its accuracy has been difficult.

Those regulations, originally set to be finished by January, are still pending.

But, earlier this year, an internal investigation prompted by a complaint uncovered false entries in the system. Last week, three LAPD officers were charged with adding false records. The department announced last month it would suspend the use of CalGang, citing questions about its accuracy and the desire to "avoid any adverse impact on individuals, particularly in communities of color."

Since the LAPD scandal, Becerra has been under pressure to take action to shut the system down, especially as protests for police reform have swept the nation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

"Millions of people exercising their First Amendment rights these past weeks have demonstrated the insufficiency of the California Department of Justice's actions to meet their longstanding demand that law enforcement treat everyone with respect and dignity," read a letter sent last month to Becerra and signed by more than three dozen organizations, including the ACLU.

"Nowhere is that more true than in the department's ineffective effort to reform law enforcement's use of the CalGang database."

That pressure increased Friday, when the LAPD released an internal audit that found widespread problems with its CalGang records, including a "haphazard" system for which records were entered. On Monday, the department announced it would permanently withdraw from the system.

LAPD records account for about 25% of CalGang entries.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: CalGang is only as good as the data that is put into it," said Becerra in a statement. "It should now be obvious to everyone: CalGang must change."

©2020 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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