Pubdate: Sat, 25 Mar 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-4712
Author: Anne-Marie O'Connor, Times Staff Writer


Crime: Many of the names in the statewide database were compiled by LAPD's
now-disbanded CRASH units.

State and local law enforcement officials have created a computer database
with files on more than 112,000 purported Los Angeles County gang members,
62,000 of whom were identified largely by officers from the now-disbanded
Los Angeles Police Department CRASH units--including those in the
scandal-ridden Rampart station, senior police officers say.

The CRASH units were disbanded after members of the Rampart Division
allegedly committed unjustified shootings, stole drugs, planted evidence
and perjured themselves to frame innocent people. The heavy reliance by the
database, called CAL/GANG, on intelligence gathered by such units raises
questions about the reliability of the computerized information, which is
available to agencies statewide.

John Crew, a police practices expert for the American Civil Liberties
Union, said CAL/GANG amounts to "a secret blacklist" that circumvents the
constitutional presumption of innocence.

The LAPD and the state Department of Justice, in fact, are reviewing the data.

The Los Angeles list constitutes a large portion of about 250,000 names in
the 2-year-old state database, according to Don Mace, who runs CAL/GANG at
its coordinating agency, the California Department of Justice. About
160,000 people are listed as gang members and 90,000 are labeled
associates, Mace said.

About two-thirds of the Los Angeles County residents listed are Latino, a
third are black, and a few--2,000--are white, according to the Sheriff's
Department's CAL/GANG coordinator, Sgt. Wes McBride.

"Not everybody in there has an arrest record," said Capt. John O'Connell,
the LAPD's gang coordinator. "This is an intelligence file. There are other
[gang] associates who may eventually become full-fledged gang members, and
this gives us a way of tracking them."

Some city officials questioned the size of the numbers--whether they
include gang members or their associates. "I think it's outrageous," said
City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. "It's probably every kid in some
neighborhoods who wear baggy pants."

Officers are not required to tell people they are included in the
database--even during the systematic "field interviews" that the LAPD and
other forces conduct with suspected gang members whom they question and
photograph, Mace said.

LAPD Det. Chuck Zeglin said 80% to 90% of the system's data on gangs in the
city of Los Angeles came from CRASH officers.

About a dozen officers and employees at Rampart CRASH used the system, and
seven of them were allowed to enter information about alleged gang members,
Capt. O'Connell said.

"CRASH officers and civilian support personnel were the only [LAPD] users
of the system," he added.

But more than 4,000 other California law enforcement officers in 522
entities--from local police forces to agents in the Los Angeles offices of
the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Drug
Enforcement Administration--are authorized to retrieve information from
CAL/GANG, Mace said.

He said INS anti-gang agents in Los Angeles are trained to pull up
information, "but they're prohibited from printing gang lists and that sort
of thing."

Cmdr. David Kalish, an LAPD spokesman, said the department conducted an
audit of its CAL/GANG entries after the Rampart scandal erupted and
determined that none of the officers implicated in alleged misconduct ever
had entered information in the system.

"There were no improprieties discovered," Kalish said. "It appears from
information that we have at this time that the system was not compromised.
I'm not aware of any information that was removed from the system." But
state officials said they are conducting their own audit of the database's
information to ensure its soundness.

Nathan Barankin, spokesman for state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, whose
department oversees the list, said no inappropriate information has been
discovered by state officials.

"There will be no aspect of this Rampart investigation that won't be
scrutinized--including our CAL/GANG database," Barankin said.

"It's extremely alarming," said Dan Tokaji, the staff attorney at the Los
Angeles office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "We know that Rampart
LAPD officers were repeatedly lying. . . . This presents an enormous
potential for abuse. It's no surprise that almost all the people labeled
gang members are black and Latino. It just shows the culture of racism
within law enforcement. This presumes people are guilty until proven
innocent. That's contrary to basic constitutional principles."

McBride of the Sheriff's Department said police officers are told they
should enter a name in the database only if the suspect has matches at
least two of the gang criteria:

* Professes to being a gang member.

* Is deemed a gang member by a reliable source, such as a trusted
informant, teacher or parent.

* Is called a gang member by an untested informant with corroboration.

* Has gang graffiti on his personal property or clothing.

* Is observed, by an officer, using gang hand signs.

* Hangs around with gang members.

* Is arrested with gang members.

* Identifies his gang affiliation when brought to county jail--something
authorities say suspects do to avoid being jailed with enemy gang members.

"It's very useful because it has a lot of pictures of people in it," said
Matthew Vurek of the DEA, who was recently trained on the system but has
not yet begun to use it. "If you say, 'There's this guy Joe who rides a
Harley-Davidson and has a swastika tattoo on his left arm and has missing
teeth,' you can pull up a location." After the Rampart scandal erupted, the
Sheriff's Department administrators of the Los Angeles component of the
system were "somewhat concerned" about the possibility of tainted
intelligence, McBride said.

"We weren't terribly concerned," he said. "I know the LAPD was, and they
started looking back at records and trying to figure out if they should
clean any records. I don't think they found anything.

"You've always got to be concerned. You don't want garbage to enter the
system. You want it pristine," McBride said. "We reviewed all our
procedures, too, to make damned sure we weren't going to get caught up

Law enforcement files on Los Angeles gangs have played an unseen role in a
joint effort by the LAPD, the FBI and the INS to curb the 18th Street gang.

A March 1998 FBI document on the effort says a review of "gang databases
maintained by local law enforcement reveals that over 15,000 individuals
have been identified as claiming membership in the 18th Street gang.
Additionally, approximately 8,000 known and suspected 18th Street gang
members have been identified through INS indices."

"Those other law enforcement databases are being reviewed to discern
whether these individuals meet the prosecution guidelines," the FBI
document said, without identifying the databases.

Laura Bosley, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles, said she could not
identify them because they were referred to in a confidential document in a
federal investigation. She said her office has had access to CAL/GANG for
eight months.

However, transcripts of interrogations conducted as part of the ongoing
Rampart investigation do show that INS agents worked directly with Rampart

A top INS official said the federal agency's Violent Gang Task Force worked
"hand in glove" with LAPD CRASH officers. The official said the INS and the
LAPD also shared intelligence on deportable criminal noncitizens, who are a
growing focus of immigration agents' enforcement.

The LAPD's Kalish said the files are crucial for dealing with gangs, which
were responsible for 7,600 crimes in the city last year--including 136
homicides, 900 drive-by shootings, 524 attempted murders, and 2,600 felony

"These aren't just little kids spray-painting the walls," he said. "We're
talking about people involved in very violent activity involving all parts
of the city. The gang files are absolutely critical to successful cases on
gang members."

LAPD Det. Zeglin said the department first created a gang file in the
mid-1980s, calling it the Gang Tracking System. The Sheriff's Department
had already begun its own Gang Reporting Evaluation and Tracking System, or
GREAT, in 1984, McBride said.

When a statewide database was proposed, "we would have used GREAT, but it
was basically 1984 technology," Zeglin said. "That's how CAL/GANG came about."

The LAPD fed two-thirds of the names in its Gang Tracking System into
CAL/GANG when it joined the system in October 1998.

San Diego, home to gangs whose members sometimes moonlight as Tijuana drug
cartel gunmen, had already joined CAL/GANG in January 1998, and the
database is now used throughout the state, Zeglin said.

With the demise of CRASH, "there's going to be a temporary reduction in
intelligence gathering." Zeglin said. "That slack will be picked up by gang
detectives and bureau officers in those divisions. There won't be a severe
interruption. I think it will be minor."
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart