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California is Close to Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Gang Databases

In April 2017, Terry Spears shared his story with San Diego’s local public media station KPBS on what it’s like to be listed in the CalGang database. Even though Mr. Spears says he has never been in a gang, it hasn’t stopped law enforcement from harassing him, and he once had his car seized for two weeks, disrupting his livelihood. He’s not the only one. California has several shared gang databases, the biggest of which is CalGang, and they are in desperate need of reform.

Fortunately, Governor Brown can sign a bill today, A.B. 90, that will go far in solving these problems.

As we explained in our earlier blogpost about A.B. 90, a 2016 California State Auditor’s report on California’s gang database was damning. It detailed how the CalGang database is riddled with errors and unsubstantiated information. It contains records on individuals that should never have been included in the database as well as records that should have long since been purged. And the system lacks basic oversight safeguards. The report went as far as saying that due to the inaccurate information in the database, it’s crime-fighting value was “diminished.” 

With the engagement of a broad coalition of civil liberties organizations—such as Youth Justice Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, Urban Peace Institute, among others—much needed reform was passed last year. However, that bill (A.B. 2298) was written prior to the California Auditor publishing its findings and therefore did not anticipate many of the important problems identified by the audit. Therefore, further work is needed to ensure that the reforms passed last year are followed through by law enforcement agencies, and that we build on them to prevent future abuses.

A.B. 90 has passed the California Senate and Assembly and is currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. As we argued in our letter to Gov. Brown:

A.B. 90 enhances accountability of the CalGang and similar databases by codifying new standards and regulations for operating a shared gang database, including audits for accuracy and proper use. The bill would also create a new technical advisory committee comprised of all stakeholders—including criminal defense representatives, civil rights and immigration experts, gang-intervention specialist, and a person personally impacted because of being labeled as a gang member—as opposed to just representatives from law enforcement.

Further, the legislation would ensure that CalGang database administration is supported by empirical research findings in developing criteria for including Californians in the database and to ensure that the information is not retained indefinitely.

A.B. 90 builds-upon and brings additional common-sense reforms to ensure that Californians can hold law enforcement accountable when they are unfairly targeted and listed in opaque databases.

Take Action

Tell Gov. Brown to sign S.B. 90 into law

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