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The Los Angeles Police Department has suspended or reassigned several cops accused of mistakenly identifying an innocent person as a gang member and falsifying records.
An investigation into the officers’ conduct was spurred by a San Fernando Valley mother who told police her son was incorrectly pegged as part of a gang in early 2019. She asked that he be removed from any gang database, and the department complied. After reviewing the circumstances that led to his labeling, which haven’t been fully detailed, the LAPD “initiated a personnel investigation into the actions of three involved officers,” the department said in a statement Tuesday.
Those three officers and others have since been removed from the field or assigned to inactive duty, the department said. None of the officers have been named by the police department.
People can be entered into the state’s gang database for admitting to being gang members, but they can also be listed as gang members if California police officers notice they frequent “gang areas,” have “gang tattoos,” or have a history of “gang-related crimes.”
“Public trust is the foundation of community policing and the LAPD has zero tolerance for any employee that would violate that trust,” the LAPD said in the news release. “The department is working with the Justice System Integrity Division of the L.A. County District Attorney’s office on any potential criminal charges that may arise from any misconduct.”
The Los Angeles Times said “more than a dozen” cops were under investigation and “some” had been removed, while the New York Times reported that the dozen-plus officers had been either suspended or reassigned after a monthslong internal investigation. That investigation reportedly led to allegations that officers misrepresented information gathered in their field notes, and in at least one instance allegedly documented findings that were inconsistent with their own body camera or car recordings.
At any rate, the LAPD’s acknowledgement of an alleged fault in its mechanisms for identifying gang members has only renewed scrutiny in the so-called “gang databases” used in large police departments throughout the nation.
The mother in the Los Angeles case was alerted last year that her son was to be listed in the state’s database of potential gang members, called CalGang, according to the LAPD’s statement Tuesday. An audit of that database published in 2016 discovered incorrect entries and that departments inconsistently followed the rules about when a person could be added, according to NBC4. State auditors even found 42 people had been entered into the database when they were infants, and that 28 of those infants were listed because they “admitted” to being gang members.
Gang databases, including California’s, have long been accused of harboring information about people doing otherwise innocuous activities — sporting tattoos, saying the wrong thing on social media, wearing certain colors — that police think warrant further monitoring or mirror gang activity. A class-action lawsuit against Chicago’s database, for instance, found that 95% of the more than 128,000 adults listed in a database were black or Latino. Those people were often subjected to increased police scrutiny, but thousands said they were erroneously classified and had no means to dispute their listing.
And last year, 10 civil rights and legal organizations in New York City called on the New York Police Department to end their own gang database, which advocates claimed almost always targeted people of color. Some of the people in the database are kids younger than 16, and the city’s police haven’t explained who is included and how. In Boston, meanwhile, a victim of gang harassment from El Salvador said he was unfairly listed in the database and deported, despite never being a member of a gang himself.
Cover: LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 07: Los Angeles Police Department officers are deployed around the police headquarters on February 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)