De Blasio's NYPD Still Employs Stop And Frisk Tactics Using Gang Database: Report

A new report claims the New York Police Department is using a dubious database to profile and crack down on Black and brown youth.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference in New York, Monday, March 16, 2015.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference in New York, Monday, March 16, 2015.

A new report alleges that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio鈥檚 crackdown on gangs is so overreaching and ill-defined, that he has effectively revived the same discriminatory policing practices he slams his predecessor for.

The report, compiled by the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, accuses de Blasio鈥檚 New York City Police Department of targeting Black and brown communities with militarized takedowns by vaguely associating them with gangs. The college released its findings 鈥 titled 鈥淕ang Takedowns in the de Blasio Era: The Dangers of 鈥橮recision Policing鈥 鈥 as the mayor continued to publicly criticize former city mayor and current 2020 presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg for the now-defunct stop and frisk policy.

Authors Josmar Trujillo and professor Alex Vitale say the NYPD has cobbled together policies that allow it to classify Black and brown youth as possible gang members using red flags that might be as simple as a kid wearing certain clothing or using slang. And under de Blasio, the number of young men being classified as gang members in non-white communities is skyrocketing.

鈥淭he decision to frame the crime problems in certain communities as a gang problem is a political one,鈥 said Vitale on Thursday. He added that the report is calling on the mayor to 鈥渟witch to real, community-based social services that try to treat young people with respect.鈥

He said de Blasio鈥檚 tactics aren鈥檛 much different than those deployed in the stop and frisk era, a time in which many non-white New Yorkers were frivolously searched and arrested without warrants or probable cause. Bloomberg had popularized 鈥渟top and frisk鈥 throughout his time in office from 2003-2013, and he recently apologized for the role his policy played in rampant racial profiling throughout the city.

But under de Blasio, Trujillo and Vitale write, 鈥渢he NYPD is merely substituting one set of techniques to tightly manage the lives of young people of color for another.鈥 According to the authors, stop and frisk has given way to an equally-intrusive, far more insidious strategy of profiling.

The authors interviewed arrested New Yorkers and their families, news reports, police documents and officers鈥 accounts to paint a picture of a department committed to making arrests 鈥 in many cases, flimsy ones 鈥 in predominantly Black and brown schools and neighborhoods. The report also notes an eagerness among officers to classify amorphous groups of Black and brown people as gangs while declining to do the same with violent white supremacist groups that have grown in popularity in New York City over recent years.

鈥淭he police department has said that the white nationalist group Proud Boys, who describe themselves as a gang, are not in the [gang] database and refuse to acknowledge whether traditional Mafia organizations are included,鈥 the report says.

According to the report, the NYPD鈥檚 database of purported gang members was roughly 90 percent Black and Hispanic during Bloomberg鈥檚 time as mayor, from 2003 to 2013. Over the following five years 鈥 mostly under de Blasio 鈥 the rate of people entered the gang database rose 70 percent, and the percentage of Black and Hispanic people in the database rose to 98 percent, the data show.

Trujillo and Vitale also report that the NYPD uses uncertain and troubling ways to classify someone as a 鈥済ang member.鈥

Police might add someone鈥檚 name to the gang database if two 鈥渋ndependent sources鈥 identify the person as a gang member, the report states. But those can be people who work closely with police or Department of Corrections officers, who may use the same imprecise definition of gangs used by the NYPD. Sources are instructed to note 鈥渢rouble with police鈥 as a sign of potential gang activity, an identifier which might include millions of people in a city with as fraught a policing history as New York.

Another reason officers add a name to the database, for example, is when a citizen they鈥檙e interviewing claims they鈥檙e a gang member. But the authors note that some children exaggerate gang membership to grandstand.

鈥淏ragging and overstating one鈥檚 position in a gang, the legitimacy of a gang (i.e. a group of friends that calls themselves a 鈥榞ang鈥) or claiming that one鈥檚 crew of friends is tough or rich can be based less on reality and more on a fictional projection for those who seek value in street culture,鈥 they write.

Any combination of these traits might land someone in the NYPD鈥檚 gang database: gang-related scars or tattoos; wearing gang-related colors; associating with known gang members; making hand signs associated with gangs; or being seen in 鈥渒nown gang locations.鈥

But the classification of 鈥渒nown gang locations鈥 is also tainted with racial bias, the report says.

鈥淪ince most of the areas marked as gang territories by the NYPD are areas with higher concentrations of Black and Latinx populations, a 鈥榢nown gang location鈥 (fulfilling half of the criteria towards gang designation) can serve as a proxy for race,鈥 it says.

The authors interviewed residents living in various housing developments and reviewed news reports of high-profile-but-fruitless 鈥済ang busts鈥 to show officers are frequently misguided in their searches.

For its part, the NYPD says those added to the database have ways to get taken off 鈥 but the onus is on them to prove they鈥檙e not a gang member. In a statement to HuffPost, the NYPD said:

鈥淭he Department has created three avenues to exit the database, reviewing each person every three years, and on their 23rd and 28th birthdays to determine if their actions and records still warrant their inclusion in the database. These safeguards are robust. In the last four years, we have removed over 3,700 entries from the database using these exit ramps.鈥

Trujillo and Vitale鈥檚 report is the latest in a string of police-related critiques that have been lobbed toward the de Blasio administration. Police reform activists have decried what they perceive to be a lack of urgency on matters of police misconduct. The activists鈥 dissatisfaction came to a head when they claimed the mayor was slow to respond to the death of Eric Garner in 2014, who was killed after being placed in a chokehold by former officer Daniel Pantaleo.

De Blasio has continued to bill himself as a sympathetic party when it comes to racial inequality and racial profiling. He has frequently invoked his Black son to suggest the problem of policing disparity affects his home, as well.

His office didn鈥檛 immediately respond to calls for comment on the report.

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