The NYPD told City Council members it should not get rid of its gang database and shouldn't have to notify anyone who's on it—even minors. The department says keeping a classified list of who it believes is in a gang proves to be an important investigative tool.
"You have a gang-related shooting,” said Oleg Chernyavsky , the executive director of the NYPD’s legislative affairs. “We can take a look and say, ‘Okay, we know the shooter is from this gang. Who else is in that gang?’”
Police say a little over 18,000 people are in their gang database. City Councilman Donovan Richards is trying to pass a bill that would mandate cops to notify parents of minors who appear on that list. But he's troubled by the entire database, saying too many people may be unfairly classified as gang members.
"We have to ensure that we are not criminalizing people for having friendships and family members in certain zip codes, wearing certain colors or posing in certain pictures with people from your block and posting them on Facebook,” said Richards. “There has to be some external oversight about who goes into this database."
Nearly 500 minors are on the NYPD's very secretive gangs database.
"494 are under the age of 18,” said NYPD assistant chief James Essig. “266 [are] 17, 145 [are[ 16, 61 [are] 15."
Twenty-two on the gang database are 13- and 14-year-olds. Police say they are against any legislation requiring them to notify parents. Advocates and public defenders are also against it, but for a different reason. They say the council should be pushing to have everyone on the list informed.
"It creates a very limited mechanism to contest a gang label, but only for those in this age group who have already received notice from the NYPD,” said supervising attorney for the Brooklyn Defenders. “In short, the bill allows the NYPD to police itself with no other oversight."
98% of those on the list are black and Latino, and white people make up just 1% of the gang database.
Councilman Richards told the NYPD they need to make sure that white supremacists and far-right groups in the city are on the gang database, as well.