NYPD brass defend controversial gang database
The hearing began after protesters questioned the NYPD's handling of gang probes, complaining that the database stigmatizes people and evokes abandoned LE practices
By Rocco Parascandola, Larry Mcshane And Khadija Hussain
New York Daily News
NEW YORK CITY — A top NYPD official defended the department's use of a controversial "gang database" Wednesday, asserting such lists remain a critical tool against organized criminal groups.
Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, appearing before the City Council Committee on Public Safety, said the NYPD was taking steps to make sure its list is current and to delete any wrongly included names from its "misunderstood" database.
"We work diligently to ensure that we do not accidentally ensnare innocent people into the database," said Shea. "The numbers back that up ... In fact, the average person in the database has been arrested 11 times, 5 of which are for felonies."
According to Shea, the current database contains 17,441 names -- down from 34,000 after a four-year NYPD winnowing that reviewed every person listed.
"Our goal is to make sure that everyone who is in the database is actually a gang member," said Shea. "We are in the era of precision policing. Saturating the database with non-gang members limits its usefulness."
Shea noted the same process was used in law enforcement's successful takedown of Italian-American organized crime family bosses in the 1980s and 1990s. The department continues to track Russian and Albanian organized crime, motorcycle gangs and terrorist organizations.
"The database is a vital tool in keeping the city safe," he said. "When violence erupts between two groups, it is vital for us to know who might retaliate and who is likely to be targeted.
"Plainly stated, it would be irresponsible for the department to not track members of gangs."
He noted during the appearance that 50% of last year's 789 city shootings involved a gang member as either the shooter or the victim.
The hearing began after demonstrators outside City Hall questioned the NYPD's handling of gang violence probes, complaining that the database stigmatizes people and evokes abandoned policing practices.
"We didn't ask for gang raids, we asked for help," said protester Vidal Guzman. "We didn't ask for stop and frisk 2.0."
Karen Taylor-Hughes of the Black Youth Project 100 complained that landing on the list could change the course of a young person's life.
"Just because someone is falsely accused of gang allegations they can lose their housing," she said. "Their families can lose their housing. These are permanent impacts on young black lives."
Shea acknowledged that 95% of the people on the gang list were black or Hispanic, but he noted that most gangs or organized crime groups "are not typically diverse organizations."
He added that the NYPD routinely reviews the list now, with each entry double-checked every three years, as well as on the 23rd birthday and once more on the 28th birthday.
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