Gang databases are dangerous. In theory, they can be a proper tool of law enforcement. But in practice, they can be abused. Having your name on a gang database is troubling, especially if you’re not actually in a gang. Law enforcement and prosecutors know that any alleged association with a gang makes it that much more difficult for you to defend yourself against any criminal charges or investigations. Moreover, prosecutors can use gang affiliations to make charges and sentences more serious. These gang databases are the tool that prosecutors and law enforcement use to link people with gangs. It’s easy to put names on a list. It’s difficult to get your name off.
As of this past Monday, Ramsey County’s gang information database, GangNet, is no more. The system was designed to combat gang activity but has gone awry in recent years. For example, it received widespread criticism for casting its net too wide in its efforts to track and prosecute gang members. This article from the Star Tribune describes that the database included individuals who “allegedly associate” with gang members, and that criticism over the 16,000+ names listed in the database prompted the Ramsey County Sheriff to eliminate thousands of names from the list.
The shutdown could have a huge impact on the future of the state’s gang database as well. By law, Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) must “administer and maintain a computerized criminal gang investigative data system for the purpose of assisting criminal justice agencies in the investigation and prosecution of criminal activity by gang members.” (see §299C.091) The BCA’s current system, Pointer, is used to track and prosecute gang members and illegal gang-related activity throughout the state. But, according to the article, the database obtains its information from GangNet, although it apparently has stricter criteria (i.e. you must be a “confirmed” gang member to get listed on Pointer). The BCA has not yet decided how to proceed.