The Takeaway: "All this time went by and I'm still in a database": Questions Arise Regarding Police Gang Databases

Dempsey representing Legal Aid during an anti gun violence rally in May.

Dempsey representing Legal Aid during an anti gun violence rally in May.

For decades, police officers have been keeping track of alleged criminals. Today, one method of keeping tabs and making connections on individuals is through so-called "gang databases."

Victor Dempsey, community liaison with the Legal Aid Society thinks he might be in a gang database in New York City.

"At a younger age before my days now I was involved in a crew, I was actually a member of the bloods gang," Dempsey told The Takeaway.

He was arrested at age 17 for attempted robbery and sent to the Rikers Island jail complex. It was there that officials learned of his gang affiliation. He was convicted, served time in Downstate Correctional Facility, and was released when he was 19-years-old.

After completing his sentence, he turned his life around. He left the gang and has been involved in community organizing.

But last fall, during a traffic stop for failing to use his turn signal, the unexpected happened: Dempsey was handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car, where he noticed something.

"He escorts me to his cruiser and places me in the back of his cruiser," Dempsey told us. "In handcuffs for a routine traffic stop."

"As I'm fidgeting I lean forward and on the bottom of the monitor there was a picture of me and little red letters. It said SRG — 'Security Risk Group.'"

According to the New York City Department of Corrections’, the DOC's Gang Intelligence Unit gathers members' information, validates it and uses it to track and monitor their activities.

The NYPD says Dempsey is incorrect about what he saw.

There is absolutely no way to verify whether "SRG" was labeling Dempsey as a former gang member, or whether he is, in fact, in the gang database at all. The list is secretive and used for police investigations.

But he believes he is in the database and that his past is following him.

"I'm 32 years of age now," he said. "I have not been in trouble since the age of 19. All this time went by and I'm still in a database."

Today, Victor Dempsey is a community liaison with the Legal Aid Society. Alongside Anthony Posada, lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, they joined us on The Takeaway, sounding the alarm about the use of these gang databases.

Listen to the New York Police Department's explanation of the database here.

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