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Crime LAPD scandal opens window into California’s secret gang database as reforms debated

00:25  06 february  2020
00:25  06 february  2020 Source:   sfchronicle.com

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The ongoing LAPD scandal , in which at least 20 officers are suspected of falsifying information used to identify gang members, will likely play a central role as With the LAPD investigation providing an unprecedented glimpse into how the closely guarded database works, the conversation is shifting.

The California Dept. of Justice has reversed on reforms to a controversial gang database as a scandal involving how LAPD identifies gang members continues to unfold.

LOS ANGELES — Brian Allen wasn’t surprised when he recently heard officers in the Los Angeles Police Department may have fabricated evidence to label people as gang members.

a man sitting in a car: Brian Allen was on California’s secret database of crime gangs, though he is not a gang member. After a two-year legal fight, the Los Angeles city attorney finally agreed to take him off the list.© Luis Sinco / Tribune News Service

Brian Allen was on California’s secret database of crime gangs, though he is not a gang member. After a two-year legal fight, the Los Angeles city attorney finally agreed to take him off the list.

He believes it happened to him, landing him on CalGang, the state’s secret database of criminal street syndicates and their suspected crews that is in the middle of a contentious reform process.

In June, after a two-year fight that ended in front of a Superior Court judge, the Los Angeles city attorney agreed to take Allen off the gang list — acknowledging in court documents that he’d been added based on nothing more than a single interview by officers who had conducted a traffic stop on Allen in 2017 as he drove home through South L.A., information Allen said was “no evidence, all speculation.”

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While Allen was on CalGang, he worried often about the consequences, that if “I didn’t blink my blinker or I didn’t stop at a stop sign, just something small could turn into something big,” he said.

The state Department of Justice has been working to fix CalGang for two years to prevent cases like those of Allen and other questionable gang identifications recently uncovered in the LAPD. But some are worried that the overdue overhaul is in jeopardy, as state Attorney General Xavier Becerra signaled last month that he may backtrack on expected changes. Doing so, say critics, would leave too much latitude in the hands of local law enforcement when it comes to deciding who is in a gang.

The ongoing LAPD scandal, in which at least 20 officers are suspected of falsifying information used to identify gang members, likely will play a central role as Becerra works to finalize the reforms by summer. It goes to the heart of the question that has divided law enforcement from community members when it comes to CalGang: How much trust should be afforded to a system that is largely immune to public scrutiny?

The LAPD investigation “really is the booster rocket to say this has got to be reformed and it’s got to be reformed not in a superficial way but in a meaningful way,” said Jorja Leap, a gang expert at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

The public has no access to CalGang. Only approved law enforcement can see the more than 88,000 records on it, even to check their accuracy.

Anita Chabria, Leila Miller and Nicole Santa Cruz are Los Angeles Times writers.

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