The Legal Aid Society launched a website today to streamline the process for New Yorkers to submit a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to determine if they have been labeled by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as a gang affiliate. This website bolsters Legal Aid’s current “FOIL Yourself” campaign, which was announced earlier this year in partnership with other advocacy groups.
By means of this website, the general public can input personal information which will automatically generate an official FOIL request. Legal Aid will then mail these requests directly to the NYPD. The website is accessible here: https://legalaidfoil.backspace.com/
These requests will continue to seek the following information:
- All records related to the person submitting the request;
- Whether or not the person was included in the gang database;
- Information about how the person’s records were used, shared, stored, maintained or destroyed
“The NYPD’s gang database is black-box of secrecy in desperate need of sunlight,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “This website will complement our current efforts to help New Yorkers – especially those from communities of color – determine if they have been caught in the NYPD’s gang labeling dragnet. New Yorkers need honesty and transparency from the Department on this opaque and clandestine process.”
Currently, law enforcement maintains and shares databases alleging gang affiliations of individuals who are not notified or given the opportunity to challenge such designations. Information is collected on adults and juveniles (as young as 12 and perhaps younger) alike. Individuals are added to the databases, not based on criminal conduct but based on area of residence, association and appearance.
Like the stop and frisk strategies that the NYPD relied upon in the recent past, the databases are likely to be over inclusive and inaccurate. Unlike the stop and frisk records, the databases are secret, do not require even a suspicion of criminality, and are not subject to Fourth Amendment protection and judicial review.
Gang databases are a key piece of a broader gang policing agenda that has intensified over the past few years. The NYPD's regular use of militarized "gang" raids targets Black and Latino residents across the city. Last year, the police department and multiple federal agencies launched the city's biggest "gang" raid ever in the Bronx, leading to the indictment of 120 people. The pre-dawn operation broke the record for biggest gang sweep ever set by a controversial 2014 raid in West Harlem.