August 8, 2018, New York – The New York City Police Department (NYPD) maintains a database that classifies thousands of New Yorkers – 99 percent of whom are people of color – as members of local street gangs or crews. Given that the NYPD relies on this racially discriminatory system to conduct military-style gang takedowns, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) today filed suit against the NYPD over the department’s failure to provide an accurate and complete response to two separate requests for information on its gang policing tactics.
“The Department’s gang database – which offers very limited due process protections for people included in the system – is used to subject New Yorkers of color to increased surveillance, additional police encounters, and in some cases, the threat of deportation,” said Marne Lenox, Assistant Counsel at LDF. “While the NYPD pretends to be committed to transparency, it continues to hide details about its gang policing practices from the public. As we lay out in our suit, either the NYPD has records they’re not sharing or the sworn testimony the department provided to the City Council is inaccurate. We’re calling on the court to uncover the truth.”
“The NYPD’s so-called 'Criminal Group Database' and gang policing practices are a black box that, like stop and frisk before them, have subjected thousands of young people of color in New York City over the past several years to police surveillance, harassment, and worse,” said Darius Charney, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It is therefore critical that the NYPD provide the public with enough information about these programs to determine whether they comply with the law.”
In filing suit, LDF and CCR assert that the NYPD’s withholding of information violates the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) in three ways. First, the department failed to conduct a diligent search for the records requested. For example, the civil rights groups note that in sworn testimony before the New York City Council in June, the NYPD discussed “established procedures” in place to ensure the accuracy of its database. However, the department now claims it has no such written policies or records. Additionally, the sergeant in charge of responding to LDF and CCR’s requests conceded that his search for records was not exhaustive. Second, the NYPD neglected to provide a sworn document certifying that records could not be located, as required by law. Third, the NYPD did not provide a specific justification for withholding particular documents, as required by law. Contrary to FOIL’s mandate, the department simply cited language in the statute without offering any factual basis in support of their claims.
In December 2017 and again in February 2018, LDF and CCR filed FOIL requests for information on how the NYPD builds, maintains, and audits its gang database, including whether and how the NYPD protects against false gang or crew designations. But, even after an administrative appeals process, the department has not disclosed the vast majority of the records requested. In addition to the FOIL requests, LDF and CCR called for transparency about the department’s gang policing tactics in their testimony at a City Council oversight hearing, which the organizations requested months earlier. LDF also served a FOIL request to the New York District Attorney’s Office seeking information about New Yorkers’ inclusion in any gang databases their office maintains or to which they have access.
Read LDF and CCR’s memorandum of law here.
Read LDF and CCR's verified petition here.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.