Here’s a good example of how government ‘watch lists’ fail
A recent audit of a California database designed to keep track of known gang members in the state revealed that the watch list included the names of dozens of admitted gang members who are still in diapers.
The audit was requested by a state lawmaker who became alarmed when she had a tough time finding even basic details about how the database operates.
“Probably people are pretty shocked about just how deep the problems are in the CalGang system in terms of lack of transparency, lack of consistency in terms of how the standards are used,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber told Voice of San Diego after the audit she requested was released late last week.
She’s right to say the findings are shocking.
For instance, the audit found “42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry—28 of whom were entered for ‘admitting to being gang members.’”
The report indicates that part of the problem likely had something to do with adults whose ages were entered into the database incorrectly.
Though that was one of the most outrageous revelations from the audit, it was only one of a laundry list of problems with the law enforcement gang database.
In at least 13 cases California law enforcement officials had added people to the gang database without any evidence of them ever having been involved in gang activity.
In addition, getting taken out of the database isn’t an easy process once a name is added.
From the audit: “Flaws in CalGang’s controls caused many individuals to remain in the system longer than federal regulations allow; in fact, some individuals are currently scheduled to remain in CalGang for hundreds of years.”
The audit also revealed that officials added minors to the database on multiple occasions without making any effort to inform parents or guardians.
Weber isn’t calling on officials to dismantle the database—but she does say the state needs to open more opportunity for public input and oversight of how law enforcement uses the database.
As lawmakers at the federal level continue pushing for the increased use of national law enforcement watch lists to deny Americans certain constitutional rights, this isn’t a story that should be alarming only to folks in California.
Proponents of efforts to prohibit gun ownership for people who end up on the federal government’s terror watch lists frame the proposals as no-brainers that will make all Americans safer. But what they never talk about is the inefficiency and downright inaccuracy of the government-maintained rosters that sometimes stand between citizens and basic rights.