Sept. 29, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
Three Queens Councilmembers are co-sponsoring a bill that would abolish the NYPD’s gang database.
The bill, which is being co-sponsored by Queens progressives Tiffany Cabán, Julie Won and Shekar Krishnan, would end the database and prevent the police department from compiling a replacement.
The NYPD’s gang database is a police resource tool containing the names of alleged gang members and other intelligence relating to street gangs. It is estimated that there are around 18,000 people currently listed on the database.
In a 2021 report, the NYPD stated that the database is a “critical component of modern policing and an invaluable tool for detectives investigating crime.”
However, advocates for the bill say that police have abused the database by unfairly targeting people of color. They often point to former police commissioner Dermot Shea stating in 2018 that 99 percent of those on the database are people of color.
Supporters of the legislation also say that people with no ties to gangs have been placed on the database and there is no way for them to get their names removed. They say that this can often lead to intensive surveillance, police harassment, overcharging, increased bail, risk of deportation and prejudicial treatment in court.
“The gang database is nothing but a dragnet to surveil and criminalize Black and brown New Yorkers, especially youth,” Cabán said in a statement to the Queens Post.
“It does nothing to reduce violence and plenty to intensify the horrors of the criminal punishment system.”
Cabán, a former public defender, said she has witnessed prosecutors weaponizing the database to coerce false confessions from people.
“Kids on this list for as little as wearing the wrong colors in the wrong place are threatened with gang conspiracy charges, and more,” said Cabán, who represents the 22nd District in western Queens covering Astoria, Rikers Island and portions of East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Woodside.
“We must eliminate the gang database and prevent the creation of a replacement.”
Cabán attended a protest in Brooklyn earlier this month to rally support for the legislation. She has previously called for the need to defund and disband the NYPD, as well as advocating for Rikers Island to be shut down without the construction of new jails. The Astoria resident has also opposed Mayor Adams’ decision to bring back plainclothes police teams — saying they are ineffective and unfairly target minorities.
Cabán is instead calling for a radically different approach to public safety which would include less policing and encouraging local business owners to get trained in de-escalation tactics should they encounter a conflicting situation.
“If we truly care about public safety outcomes, the evidence-based, data-driven way forward is crystal clear,” Cabán said. “We must invest in the supports our young people need: mental healthcare, high-quality education, restorative justice, employment opportunities, nutritious food, and more.”
Cabán, Won, and Krishnan are among the 14 Councilmembers co-sponsoring the bill. It was introduced in May but is currently in committee, having not been put to the floor for a vote.
The Queens Post reached out to Won and Krishnan for comment in relation to the bill but did not receive a response. Won represents the 26th council district in western Queens while Krishnan is the Councilmember for District 25 covering Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.
The move to eliminate the NYPD’s gang database comes at a time when most citywide crime categories have increased this year — with overall crime up 34.4 percent, according to city data.
For instance, in the 114th Precinct, which covers much of Cabán’s district, overall crime is up 23.3 percent compared to the same period last year. However, murders are down 62.5 percent and rapes are down 20 percent in her district.
The precinct also includes the Astoria, Woodside, Ravenswood and Queensbridge Houses – NYCHA complexes where there have been several shootings in the past three years.
Councilmember Robert Holden, a staunch supporter of the NYPD, is concerned that, if passed, the bill could lead to even more crime in the city.
“With the explosion of gang violence claiming so many innocent victims in this city, just who are these council members pretending to protect?” Holden said in a statement to the Queens Post.
“Eliminating the gang database is reckless, irresponsible and will result in even more violence in this city.”