Public comment sought for criteria for new gang database


The Violent Crime Coordinating Council (VCCC) is taking public comment on its new proposed Gang Database criteria, which look remarkably like the old Gang Database Criteria. GangNet, the controversial gang database run by Ramsey County’s now defunct Gang Strike Force, was shut down in August, and the Gang Pointer File, run by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions, has dwindled because its main feeder was GangNet.

The Violent Crime Coordinating Council, a group established by the legislature to provide guidance related to the investigation and prosecution of gang and drug crime, held community meetings in the fall, seeking input about what a new gang database would look like. Now they are seeking public comment around a new list of proposed criteria.

As articulated in a report by the Community Justice Project (CJP) of St. Thomas Law School in collaboration with the NAACP, community members have long held concerns about how gang members are identified, believing in some cases, communities of color are racially profiled and harassed. In addition, criticism has focused on the 10 point criteria used for both GangNet and the Gang Pointer File, which includes such criteria as being photographed with a gang member, corresponding with a gang member, or being seen to be associated on a regular basis with a gang member, all of which might be true of someone who lives in the same community and/or is a family member of a gang member. In order to be submitted to the Gang Pointer File, an individual must be 14 years of age, have committed a gross misdemeanor or felony, and fit 3 of the 10 criteria. 

The new recommendations contain nine criteria rather than ten, although two of the old ones are actually combined. The new version is a bit more specific and “fleshed out.”

“Most of the criteria still don’t address the root levels of bias in policing and racial profiling that will likely occur,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, Director of CJP.  

Levy-Pounds is concerned that the recommendations don’t address some of the key issues brought up by community members- especially the issue of parental notification for people under the age of 18 who are put on the list. “It’s unclear why the committee chose not to address that issue at this particular stage, as well as recommendations surrounding intervention and prevention initiatives,” she said. The collateral issues, she said, go “hand in hand with the use of gang criteria,” she said.

As for the criteria themselves, Levy-Pounds points to the use of a “reliable” source to identify gang membership as problematic, as teachers and other untrained professionals are listed as people that can make those judgments, which will inevitably have a longtime impact of lives.

The problem with the proposed criteria, like the old criteria, Levy-Pounds, said, is that they don’t correlate with evidence of gang activity. For example, “It’s easy for someone living in the inner city community to be in the company of gang members,” she said.

“It’s a good try,” she said of the changes. “It seems to me that its very similar to what they had before.

Here’s a look at the new criteria, and how they compare with the previous list:

1. “Admits Gang Membership”. Correlates with old criterion: “Subject admits to being a gang member”. The new criterion clarifies, saying “Admission must be documented with date of admission and name of officer who heard the admission in a police report, field contact memo, or recorded statement.”

2. “Arrested with Confirmed Gang Member”. Correlates with old criterion #8: “Arrested in the company of identified gang members or associates.” In the new proposed criterion, you can’t just be arrested with associates of gang members, just “confirmed” gang members in order to qualify. The new criterion clarifies: “Arrests must be documented in a police report or field contact memo and include the date, time, and location of the association or arrest” and “Individual is arrested with a known gang member for an offense consistent with gang-related criminal activity.”

3. “Displays a Gang Tattoo or Brand.” Correlates with “Has tattoos indicating gang membership.” Clarification: “Tattoos and Brands must be photographed or described in detail, using factual, non-subjective language. For example: “6 Pointed Star obtained 6 months ago” is a good description, “Gangster Disciple Star” is not.” Also: “To be considered a “gang tattoo” or “gang brand” the gang-related nature of the tattoo or brand must be confirmed by an officer with adequate training and experience.” 

4. “Wears Clothing or Symbols to Identify with a Gang.” Correlates with “Wears gang symbols to identify with a specific gang.” Again, the new criterion is exactly the same, but offers explanation. The gang symbols or clothing “must be evaluated in the context of the wearer and how they are worn,” the criterion states. “Many symbols have multiple meanings and may not be a gang symbol to everyone.” The clothing or symbols must be photographed (if permitted), or described with “factual, non-subjective language,” and must be confirmed by a trained officer.

5. Appears in a Photograph or Image with Confirmed Gang Member Engaging in Gang-Related Activity or Displaying Gang Signs or Symbols. Correlates with: “Is in a photograph with known gang members and/or using gang-related hand signs,” from the previous gang database. The new criterion clarifies that the photographs should depict “evidence of gang-related criminal activity. If a photograph just shows a person with confirmed gang member without gang activity or a display of gang signs or symbols, it only counts as “one of the three documented occasions of association in the previous 12 month period under criterion #8”. Also, a photo of a suspected gang member can be used for #4 OR #5, not both. The criteria further states that photographs obtained “by consent or “during a lawful search should be inventoried or otherwise preserved and the chain of custody maintained.” However, images from social networking sites can be used, with the name of the person who posted it, the date, and the URL (if known). The gang-related nature of the clothing or symbols also must be confirmed by a trained officer.

6 “Name Appears On a Gang Roster” correlates with the previous “Name is on gang document, hit list, or gang-related graffiti.” The new criterion stipulates that a “gang roster” could include “address books, party lists, notebooks or clothing lists and autographed signs at street side memorials should be photographed, properly preserved or inventoried when permitted.” The criteria says “There must be sufficient documented information matching the name with a specific individual before this can be counted as a criterion,” and “Graffiti containing threats against a suspected or confirmed gang member or graffiti signed by the tagger should be photographed or described in detail.” Finally, a list generated by a law enforcement agency is not a gang roster.

7. “Identified as a Gang Member by a Reliable Source” correlates with “Is identified as a gang member by a reliable source.” In the new criterion, reliable sources could be police officers, probation officers, teachers, family members, other gang members, or informants.

8. “Is Regularly Observed or Corresponds with Confirmed Gang Member” corresponds with “Is observed to associate on regular basis with known gang members.” That’s a slight difference, putting an emphasis on the need to actually observe the “regularity.” The observations have to be documented, and the associations have to be “voluntary and related to criminal activity.” So if they work together, that doesn’t count. Also, “family associations are not considered to be gang related unless there is criminal activity involved in the association.” The new criterion states that a minimum of three occasions of associations in the previous 12 months is needed to meet the “association” portion of the requirement. Finally, letters between gang members — especially to and from prisoners — can be used, as well as messages and online conversations, which must be “downloaded and electronically preserved.” The last portion of this criterion correlates with the previous gang database criterion #9. So, even though the new criterion has nine criteria rather than ten, all of the previous criteria are included in the new recommendations.

9. “Produces Gang-Specific Writing or Produces Gang Graffiti on Walls, Books, etc.” correlates with “Writes about gang (graffiti) on walls, books and paper.” Again, the graffiti should be photographed, or else described in a police report or field contact memo using factual, non-subjective language. Also, the “gang-related nature of the writings or graffiti must be confirmed by an officer with adequate training and experience.”

So there you have it. If you have comments or critiques, you can email or send snail mail to: 

Violent Crime Coordinating Council

c/o Department of Public Safety, Office of Justice Programs

445 Minnesota Street, Suite 2300, St. Paul, Minnesota 55101-1515 

The NAACP of St. Paul is also requesting people “CC” their comments to the NAACP Legal Redress Committee Chair, Joel Franklin,