Ramsey County dials back GangNet, after criticism


Following meetings with the University of St. Thomas School of Law’s Community Justice Project (CJP), the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office has agreed to adopt some changes to their policy of entering names into the GangNet database.  The changes, which include notifying parents of juveniles when they are entered into GangNet, and reducing the number of years that an individual can stay in the database if they don’t meet any new criteria, please critics who have been vocal against GangNet, although they say there is still more work to be done. 

This fall, CJP and the NAACP met with community members to address concerns about GangNet and the Gang Pointer File, which is run by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and governed by state statute.  The town-hall style forums discussed major concerns with the gang databases, such as racial profiling, lack of parental notification when a child’s data has been entered into the gang databases, difficulty verifying whether one’s data is included in a gang database, lack of knowledge regarding how one might contest data, trustworthiness of data entered by the Metro Gang Strike Force, denial of employment opportunities, and denial of right to access carry and conceal law for employment purposes. Among  CJP’s findings was that African-American residents of Minnesota are overrepresented in the Gang Pointer File and GangNet.

CJP published a report  of their findings in the beginning of December, and on December 30, they met with Sheriff Fletcher, according to Nekima Levy Pounds of CJP.  “During the meeting, we brought up concerns that were raised in the report,” Pounds said.  “We told him that we understand the value GangNet has in terms of law enforcement.”  According to Pounds, CJP attempted to find what they could agree on with the sheriff.  “We made progress,” she said.  “My hope is that this is part of the longer process to see more reform happen.”

Following CJP’s meeting with Sheriff Fletcher, Pounds was asked to make a presentation of CJP’s findings at the MN Sheriff ‘s Association winter conference in St. Cloud.  Pounds said she was invited by Jim Franklin, head of the Sheriff’s Association to highlight issues that the CJP report raised, and to continue the dialogue begun with Sheriff Fletcher. 

Like the state-created Gang Pointer File, GangNet uses a 10 point criteria to determine if individuals belong in the system.  (See here for the criteria).  Unlike the Gang Pointer File, which requires individuals meet three criteria, GangNet only requires one, and also unlike the Gang Pointer File, an individual doesn’t need to have committed a gross misdemeanor or felony to be put on the list. 

Under the new changes, individuals will be taken off the database if after five years they do not meet any of the criteria (previously it was ten years).  As a result of this change in policy, 6,000 names were purged from the list, according to an article by Mara Gottfried in the Pioneer Press. Previously GangNet had 16,500 names and it now contains roughly 10,500, according to Gottfried’s article.  (The Ramsey County Sheriff’s office did not return phone calls or emails for this article.) 

The new changes also include a provision that parents of minors will be informed when their children are entered into the database. Pounds said she was very pleased with this change.  “If you are going to have a database for youth, it has to be countered with intervention and prevention,” she said. The parental notification will only apply to minors entered from now on, according to Gottfried’s article. 

Adults will continue to not be informed, although individuals may contact the sheriff’s office to find out if they are on the list.  Also, unlike the Gang Pointer File, which prohibits minors under 14 years of age being entered into its database, GangNet still has no minimum age limit for being entered. 

Pounds said that CJP will continue to meet and encourage positive changes in the GangNet system as well as the Pointer File, which has not yet announced any changes to their system.  In regards to the changes that the sheriff’s office has made, Pounds said:  “It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but have a ways to go.”