Gangs

CA Attorney General Blocks Law Enforcement Access to Quarter of State Gang Database Entries Amid Investigation Into LAPD Misconduct

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

In February, the California Department of Justice initiated a review of the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of the statewide gang database, CalGang, in response to allegations that LAPD officers had been intentionally mislabeling people as gang members in order to improve their stop and search statistics.

The LAPD began investigating the issue itself, early last year, after one LA mother complained that members of the department’s elite Metropolitan Division had falsely identified her son as a gang member. When department officials looked at the officers’ body camera footage, they found alarming discrepancies, and ultimately reversed the young man’s gang label. In looking at other officers’ videos, they found that other officers appeared to have penned inaccurate gang designations onto paper gang field identification cards, as well.

On July 10, the LAPD notified the LA Police Commission that it was “permanently withdrawing from participation in the CalGang database ‘given the extent of the inaccurate information found, including instances of false information.”

In June, the city placed a moratorium on LA police entering anyone into CalGang.

Now, five months later, CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announced that, moving forward, the LAPD would be blocked from accessing any part of CalGang, and all other law enforcement agencies across the state will be unable to access any records that the LAPD has entered into CalGang.

The LAPD has put in approximately a quarter of all the 78,000 records currently in the controversial and secretive CalGang database.

The AG’s office also urged all law enforcement agencies to audit their own use of the database to ensure the “integrity of their entries” into the system.

“CalGang is only as good as the data that is put into it,” said Becerra.

“If a quarter of the program’s data is suspect, then the utility of the entire system rightly comes under the microscope. The Legislature tasked DOJ with oversight of the CalGang database and with the development of mechanisms to ensure the system’s integrity. That’s why we’re formally revoking access to the records generated by LAPD. Public safety tools must provide a real benefit to the public and withstand the durability test of constant scrutiny. It should now be obvious to everyone: CalGang must change.”

Becerra said the DOJ’s investigation into database misuse is still ongoing.

Additionally, the LA County District Attorney’s Office has charged three members of the elite Metro LAPD division, Braxton Shaw, Michael Coblentz, and Nicolas Martinez with falsifying field interview cards by indicating that civilians verbally admitted to being in gangs, and by making up fake people to label as gang members. The officers’ body camera footage revealed those falsifications. The three face 59 counts between them. More than a dozen others reportedly remain under investigation.

Individuals who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database.

AG Becerra’s office is currently working on an updated set of criteria under AB 90 a bill passed in 2017 to reform the long-troubled CalGang system. AB 90 will put in place regular audits and other regulations to improve accountability and accuracy for the database, which is shared by law enforcement agencies across the state.

The full criteria for designating someone as a gang member on CalGang is outlined in California’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act), which also created sentence “enhancements” for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a gang. The outcomes can be catastrophic. These enhancements can turn a sentence of a few years into one of multiple decades, and disproportionately affect poor and minority people.

CalGang identification can also lead to inclusion in a gang injunction, affect employment prospects, and lead to deportation.

For kids and adults, achieving removal from the database has also long been a difficult feat.

Back in 2016, State Auditor Elain M. Howle found that CalGang lacked necessary state oversight and did not adequately protect the rights of more than 150,000 people listed in the database. In more than 10 percent of the sample cases Howle’s office examined — entered by the LAPD and three other law enforcement agencies — the departments could not support the inclusion of the individuals based on the database entry criteria.

There were also alarming data errors in the profiles. For example, out of all of the CalGang entries, there were more than 40 profiles for people who were reported as being younger than one year old when entered into the database. Twenty-eight of those infant gang member entries were for people who “admitted to being gang members.”

It was also common in the cases of the LAPD’s entries gang-designated minors and their parents were not properly notified and given a chance to contest an entry into CalGang.

7 Comments

  • I don’t know how Becerra is getting away without any blame in this. Fixing CalGang has been his job since 2018 and he has done literally less than what is legally required for him to do to fix this problem. PC 186.36 says he was supposed to have regulations and a plan for auditing in place by last January and he still hasn’t done it. I am amazed he now has the audacity to say that local departments should audit their entries or that the Legislature should do something about this. Agencies’ inability to audit themselves was exactly why he was given that responsibility. Also, every time advocates have demanded that he compare bodycam footage to FI cards as part of the auditing regimen (like the LAPD has finally done), he has refused. And as for the legislature, the legislature DID do something about it, they empowered HIM to oversee the database!!! Yet even now, he continues to duck responsibility.

    The other thing that is not getting nearly enough attention and that nobody is asking or answering is why the cops accused of fraudulently entering people into the database did it. I give Chief Moore a lot of credit for finally looking into this (after Becerra refused) but that shouldn’t give Moore a pass to cover up the rest of the story. The only credible explanation so far was that Metro officers were under tremendous pressure from command staff down to justify their stops as gang profiling, not racial profiling. But owning up to that would reveal a much bigger problem than just a dozen or so frontline cops lying on FI cards. So he continues to deny there was any systems failing in any of this and almost nobody is publicly calling him out on that.

    Also, it might be a nit, but the criteria for entry is not in the STEP act or anywhere in statute. The sponsors of the gang database accountability legislation were very careful not to create a checklist for gang membership that could be used by DAs to legitimize cops’ racially biased guesses about who is and is not a gang member. The DOJ is currently allowing departments to use the old criteria they invented for themselves but those criteria were never put into law. By the way, those are the same criteria the legislature found unacceptable almost three years ago. And again, this was supposed to be fixed by Becerra before last January, but he never did it.

    • Very interesting that California Law Enforcement Association endorsed Attorney General Becerra.
      That alone speak volumes which coincides with Becerra’s action in one area and his lack of action in another.

  • Beccera speaks with a forked tongue touting Police Reforms yet appealed Senate Bill 1421 which opens up files on cops who commit crimes.

    SB 1421 passed and is in effect as California prepares to expose more scandals.

    ALADS spent big money in fighting SB1421and lost. Just think, the LASD Mandoyan caper is Exhibit A.

    • Oh, it’s Exhibit A alright, but not for the reasons you think. It turns out the McDonnell administration did a host of curious things. First the executives were not going to fire him, concluding there was insufficient evidence to prove dishonesty. The complainant herself apparently admitted that Mandoyan was living with her and let him back in in the infamous video, negating the criminal charges. Disgraced constitutional policing advisor Diana Teran was the driving force in making it a termination case without the facts to support it.

      A deep dive by the Villanueva administration discovered that the complainant was allowed to edit her own evidence, deleting up to 94% of the available footage, and the McDonnell administration deliberately concealed exculpatory witness testimony at civil service, rendering their decision compromised. The responsible parties retired prior to being charged for the crimes of subornation of perjury, with the statute of limitations already run out. You can read the details of this at: https://lasd.org/pdf/Case-Analysis-Redacted-Public.pdf

      For a look at Max Huntsman’s amateurish attempt to support McDonnell’s wrongful termination practices, with repeated citations of the Los Angeles Times as a credible source of information, read his report:

      https://oig.lacounty.gov/Portals/OIG/Reports/TruthandReconciliation_4.pdf?ver=2019-07-09-162513-477

      And while we’re on the subject of SB 1421, looks like Sheriff Villanueva has been working hard to honor it, with zero support from the Board of Supervisors and the CEO:

      https://lasd.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Response_SB1421_070720.pdf

      • Many questions with no solid answers concerning Mandoyan.

        Why so much attention and money spent on Mandoyan and not other deputies who were fired for less offenses?

        Why him, why now?

        Is Mandoyan in a union?

        Who is paying his legal fees?

        Is Attorney General Becerra aware of this case?

        A door leading to that case is equivalent to a Pandora’s Box as the clock ticks

  • How many LA sheriffs names are in the gang database ?

    The East LA banditos and Lynnwood Vikings are some of the most dangerous armed gang members in the state of California

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