The city's Department of Investigation has delayed release of a long-anticipated report on the NYPD's database of people with alleged gang ties, breaking a promise by the agency's head to make the findings public by year’s end.
The DOI is “diligently working” on the investigation and “is hopeful to issue its report early this year,” Dianne Struzzi, the agency’s director of communications, said in a statement. At a spring hearing, DOI Commissioner Jocelyn Strauber said the report – which launched in 2018 – was in draft form and would be published “within this year.”
No reason for the delay was provided.
The city’s broken promises must end now.
The missed deadline sparked outrage among criminal justice reformers, who have been clamoring for the study's release. They view the report as imperative to bolstering accountability and transparency and condemn the database as unfair, inaccurate and racially discriminatory.
“The city’s broken promises must end now,” Anthony Posada, supervising attorney of the Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit in New York, said in a statement.
Recent audits of gang databases, including in California in 2016 and Chicago in 2019, uncovered widespread inaccuracies and little oversight. A federal appeals court last year called the Boston Police Department’s database “flawed.”
Critics also decry what they regard as overly vague criteria for inclusion. They say the databases fuel racial discrimination and liken the computer files as a kind of digital “stop and frisk.” In June 2018, 99% of the listed names in the city database were of Black and Latino men, former Police Commissioner Dermot Shea testified at the time.
To be added to the Criminal Group Database, as it’s officially called, individuals must admit they are a member of a gang or meet two related criteria, such as wearing certain colors, making hand signs associated with a gang or frequently spending time in areas known to have gang activity, according to a 2021 NYPD report.
Meanwhile, the NYPD defends the database as vital to crime prevention, including the “significant portion” of city shootings attributed to gang members, Julian Phillips, the agency’s deputy commissioner of public information, said last year. He argued that the database has “strict and transparent” rules, “multiple levels of review” and is audited to remove people who are “no longer active” in gang activity.
Police reformers, anti-surveillance advocates and public defenders demanded the release of the investigation in multiple rallies last fall, led by the G.A.N.G.S. Coalition --the Grassroots Advocates for Neighborhood Groups & Solutions Coalition. The group is also calling on City Council to pass Int. 0360, which would abolish the database and prevent the NYPD from creating a replacement.
In November, some 16 members of the City Council also sent a letter to the acting inspector general of the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD, a division of the DOI, calling on the agency to publish the report “with no further delay.”