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An internal database used by California’s police agencies chronicles some 150,000 suspected gang members. However, the CalGang database is so riddled with errors that its authenticity, and its ability to help the authorities fight gang violence, is now being questioned by the state’s auditor.
Consider that an audit of the crime-fighting database—which points to gang member booking photographs, birth dates, race, gender, known addresses, tattoos, convictions, interactions with police, and so on—listed 42 people under the age of one as suspected gang members.
“We found 42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry—28 of whom were entered for ‘admitting to being gang members,'” Elaine Howle, the state’s top auditor, wrote in a recent review of the database, which is administered by police agencies across California’s 58 counties.
According to Howle:

Inadequate oversight contributed to the numerous instances in which the four user agencies we examined could not substantiate the validity of CalGang entries.
Specifically, the agencies lacked adequate support for 13 of 100 people we reviewed in CalGang and for 131 of 563 (23 percent) of the CalGang criteria entries we reviewed.

Although a person’s CalGang record must be purged after five years unless updated with subsequent criteria, we found more than 600 people in CalGang whose purge dates extended beyond the five-year limit, many of which were more than 100 years in the future.

The 109-page report found that the California policing agencies have wrongly used the database, implemented in 1997, for employment screening purposes, and that it has also been used in court to help bolster support that a defendant was a gang member.

The report found there was little to no oversight of the database as well—a fact that has led to it being prone to errors
“As a result, user agencies are tracking some people in CalGang without adequate justification, potentially violating their privacy rights.

Further, by not reviewing information as required, CalGang’s governance and user agencies have diminished the system’s crime-fighting value,” Howle wrote.
The report noted that persons placed in the database can only remain there for five years unless new information surfaces to increase the time. What’s more, the database violates state law by not allowing parents of juveniles to contest a finding that their sons or daughters are being included in the database.

Finally, the user agencies have poorly implemented a 2014 state law requiring notifications before adding a juvenile to CalGang.

Two agencies we reviewed did not provide juveniles and parents with enough information to reasonably contest the juveniles’ gang designations, thereby denying many people their right to contest a juvenile’s gang designation.

The California report noted that gangs are responsible for about half of violent crime nationally.

The report’s analysis focused on the Los Angeles Police Department, Santa Ana Police Department, and the Santa Clara and Sonoma County sheriff’s departments.
Sonoma was the only agency to dispute the audit’s findings.

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