New York City criminal justice advocates called on the City Council to abolish the NYPD's gang database, decrying the listing as the new “stop and frisk” on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall on Wednesday.

Lawyers, councilmembers, activists, and former gang members rallied in support of Int. 360-2022, a City Council bill filed earlier this year to end the database and prohibit the department from launching a replacement. As summer ends and the City Council's schedule ramps up, activists said they wanted the bill to be a top priority.

Activists said they were hoping a long-awaited city Department of Investigations report on the database, slated to publish later this year, will amplify their call after similar probes in Los Angeles and Chicago.

While the NYPD has called the database a critical tool in preventing gang-related shootings, activists said it is a digital dragnet that unfairly subjects people of color to more surveillance and prosecution with insufficient recourse to remove their name and transparency about how it works.

“It is a tool in a failed toolbox as part of a system that is selling us false safety,” said Councilmember Tiffany Cabán, a Democrat who represents parts of Queens and is one of the bill’s sponsors.

The Criminal Group Database, as it’s officially known, lists some 18,000 people suspected as gang members, according to department figures earlier this year. Former Police Commissioner Dermot Shea testified in 2018 that 99% of the listed names were of Black and Latino men.

Julian Phillips, the NYPD's deputy commissioner of public information, said it would be misguided to abolish the gang database.

"An unfortunate pattern emerges each year with shootings in New York City and that is that a significant portion of those shootings have a nexus to gang activity where either the shooter or the victim is a member of a gang," Phillips said in statement. "In order to effectively combat gang violence, the police need to understand the size of these criminal groups, their scope, who its members are, and the crimes they have committed. This is what the database provides."

He added that the department uses the database to solve violent crime, including gang-related shootings and homicides, but also "in getting ahead of gang-related retribution, thereby helping the NYPD, neighborhood based groups and violence interrupters to prevent retaliation shootings."

According to Phillips, the NYPD’s Criminal Group Database "has a strict and transparent set of rules and criteria, multiple levels of review, and is subject to audits to remove individuals no longer active in gang activity."

Similar tools in other cities and states have come under fire in recent years for inaccurate records and indiscriminate sharing of the information with other government agencies. A federal appeals court ruled in January that federal immigration officials improperly used the Boston Police Department’s “flawed” database to connect a Salvadoran teen to the international MS-13 gang and deport him. In 2020, California’s attorney general barred law enforcement agencies from accessing Los Angeles police records submitted to a statewide gang database after multiple LAPD officers were charged with falsifying records.

A bill similar to Int. 360 was proposed last year by Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso when he was serving in the City Council.

Josmar Trujillo, an activist with the G.A.N.G. Coalition, said the measure will be a political “litmus test” for a panel he called “self-proclaimed” as the “most progressive council in the city’s history.

This article was updated to include comment from the NYPD.