Elaine M. Howle, the California State Auditor, released a 115-page report August 11 that called the state’s “CalGang” database inaccurate and poorly managed. The information in the database is widely used by prosecutors to “validate,” or prove that defendants are members of criminal gangs.
“CalGang,” the report explains, “is a shared criminal intelligence system that law enforcement agencies (user agencies) throughout the State use voluntarily. User agencies enter information into CalGang on suspected gang members, including their names, associated gangs, and the information that led law enforcement officers to suspect they were gang members.”
“However, CalGang’s weak leadership structure has been ineffective at ensuring that the information the user agencies enter is accurate and appropriate, thus lessening CalGang’s effectiveness as a tool for fighting gang related crimes. Further, the inaccurate data within CalGang may violate the privacy rights of individuals whose information appears in CalGang records but who do not actually meet the criteria for inclusion in the system.”
According to Howle, CalGang receives “no state oversight” and operates “without transparency or meaningful opportunities for public input.”
“A lack of adequate oversight likely contributed to the numerous instances we found in which the four user agencies we examined – the Los Angeles Police Department (Los Angeles), the Santa Ana Police Department (Santa Ana), the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office (Santa Clara), and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office (Sonoma) – could not substantiate CalGang entries they had made. Specifically, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and Sonoma, which add gangs to the system, were able to demonstrate that only one of the nine gangs we reviewed met the requirements of CalGang policy before entry; Santa Clara does not add gangs to the system. We also found that all four user agencies lacked adequate support for including 13 of the 100 individuals we reviewed in CalGang. Further, we reviewed more than 560 criteria related to these 100 individuals and determined that the user agencies lacked adequate support for 131, or 23 percent.”
“Our review uncovered numerous examples demonstrating weaknesses in the user agencies’ approaches for entering information into CalGang. For example, Sonoma included a person in CalGang for allegedly admitting during his booking into county jail that he was a gang member and for being ‘arrested for an offense consistent with gang activity.’ However, the supporting files revealed that this person stated during his booking interview that he was not a member of a gang and that he preferred to be housed in the general jail population. Further, his arrest was for resisting arrest, an offense that has no apparent connection to gang activity.”
Changing The Law
Howle’s report also found “found 42 individuals in CalGang whose birthdates indicated that they were less than one year old at the time their information was entered, 28 of whom were entered into the system in part because they admitted to being gang members.”
State legislators have know about the problems the report describes for months. California Assembly member Shirley Weber introduced a bill last March – that was most recently amended yesterday in response to the auditor’s report – to revise the California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act.
Among other reforms, Weber’s bill would require law enforcement to notify you if they intend to add you to the gang database. The bill would allow you to challenge your inclusion in the database and police forces would have to produce transparency reports for anyone to look at with statistics on CalGang additions, removals, and demographics.
You can read the auditor’s complete report here.