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EFF Urges Further Reforms for California's Unfair Gang Databases

When California Gov. Jerry Brown signed A.B. 2298 last year, it marked a major victory for civil liberties against faulty law enforcement technology. The legislation instituted key reforms for the CalGang system and other shared gang databases used by police to link people to criminal organizations based on only the flimsiest of evidence.

But A.B. 2298 was just the beginning. Questions remain on how to implement the new requirements, such as how a person can challenge in court their inclusion in a gang database. The reform bill’s author, Assemblymember Shirley Weber, also has a new legislation—A.B. 90—that would further reform the CalGang system in response to a damning California State Auditor’s report issued last year.

EFF is proud to join the grassroots campaign working hard to pass this bill. The coalition includes more 30 civil rights organization, such as the Youth Justice Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Policy Link, and the Urban Peace Institute. 

In a letter to Assemblymember Weber endorsing A.B. 90, we wrote

A.B. 90 would require new standards and regulations for operating a shared gang database, including audits. Further, the bill would create a new advisory committee comprised of all stakeholders—including a public defender, civil liberties expert, and the parent of a juvenile who had been included in a gang database—as opposed to just representatives from law enforcement. The legislation would further ensure that Californians are removed from shared gang databases when no new evidence has emerged for two years linking them to gang activity.

As the State Auditor reported to the legislature, 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. These databases represent a combined threat to privacy and civil rights that disproportionately impacts communities of color.  

EFF Staff Attorney Stephanie Lacambra this week filed formal comments with the Judicial Council of California on the judicial process for a person to request they be removed from a gang database. One of the most important measures that became law under A.B. 2298 is the ability for a person to challenge their inclusion in the gang database with law enforcement, and if the agency rejects that request, to petition a court.

A.B. 90 would take the further step of putting the burden on police departments to respond to individuals’ requests for removal within 30 days and allow petitioners to go directly to court if they do not receive a response.

EFF agrees with the Judicial Council’s proposal that courts should designate a particular judge to handle CalGang removal petitions, but we recommend that any criminal court judge be empowered to handle removals as part of criminal proceedings. We also called for the rules to allow fee waivers for indigent petitioners and recommended ways the rules could adequately protect the privacy of juvenile records. 

We urge the Judicial Council and California Legislature to approve these much needed reforms. 

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