Criticism of the NYPD’s gang database proves it once and for all: No policing tool is safe from New York City radicals.
Top detective defends NYPD's database of suspected gang members
New York City’s top detective defended the NYPD’s controversial database…
Well, too bad for them: At a City Council hearing Wednesday, NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea demolished their every argument, driving home the importance of the Criminal Group Database and the vital info — on street gangs and their members and associates — it contains.
Cops, Shea noted, have been collecting leads ever since policing was invented. It’s how they curb crime. And that’s essentially what the NYPD database stores — leads.
“Collecting data on members of criminal organizations is nothing new,” he said. “To dismantle a criminal organization, you have to understand its size, its scope, who its members are and what crimes each member has committed.”
And police have long tracked criminal groups, like the Mafia. Info was “stored in file cabinets” or “index cards.” Keeping it on computers simply lets investigators make better use of it.
Critics claim the database is racially biased and sweeps up too many innocents, especially the young. They also charge that it’s hard to be deleted from the database and that those in it can face unfair consequences for jobs, in court, etc.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. Kids under 18 make up just 2.5 percent of the names. As for bias: The database “almost exactly reflects the racial breakdown” of shooting victims. And also violent criminals: In 2017, 95 percent of those arrested in shooting incidents were black or Hispanic.
And no one is indiscriminately added: You must first fit rigid criteria, such as having self-identified as a gang affiliate. Of those who make the cut, 90 percent have been arrested for at least one felony; the average is 11 arrests, including five felonies.
Names don’t stay on file forever: They’re routinely purged, if for no other reason than the info gets outdated. Nor are the data shared with housing officials, employers, the feds or others.
And New York, unlike other states, has no process for toughening up criminal sentences on an alleged or even proven gang member.
The critics’ biggest whopper: The database is a “more damaging but lesser known substitute for stop-and-frisk,” as Gothamist put it. Huh? Both are policing tools, but they’re nothing alike — and they serve completely different purposes.
There’s big irony in that, too: Gangs, after all, “are drivers of a significant portion of violent crime,” Shea notes. Scrap the gang database, and you may soon hear calls to bring back stop-and-frisk.