Organized gang activity is definitely a problem in many areas of the country, and Georgia is no exception. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the governor has announced the creation of a statewide database that’s designed to track known gang members, suspected gang members and their various associates.
The Georgia Criminal Street Gang Database (GCSGD) went fully operational in February. The goal is to provide officers with an investigative tool that can also inform their official processes and help keep officers from getting hurt in the line of duty.
In practice, however, gang databases haven’t really worked out that well for other states. Activists say that such databases can heavily infringe on people’s civil rights and encourage abuses of authority. They also tend to be disproportionately filled with the names of people of color, particularly Latino or African American young men. Many of those people may be guilty of nothing more than sharing a common name with someone else who is involved in a gang — or they simply have the misfortune to land on the list through someone’s error.n
Once someone’s name is on such a database, they may be subjected to intense police scrutiny. That can lead to frivolous arrests and long-lasting problems. While California isn’t the only state to experience problems with a gang database, the recent accusations against 20 officers in Los Angeles for misusing the database and adding names to the list without justification is a recent, cautionary tale that shows just how easily widespread abuse can be.
So far, there are about 17,000 names in the Georgia database, but you can expect that number to climb. Some estimates say that as many as 70,000 residents in the state may be associated with street gangs. According to the gang task force, your name can be put on the list without any notification — and there’s no method for getting it back off. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has complete authority over who does and does not go on the list.
More than ever, it’s important to take criminal charges seriously — even if you know that they are false. If you’ve been charged with a felony crime in Georgia, find out what defense options you have available.