Criminal street gangs in California commit a multitude of crimes and employ violence to expand their criminal enterprises. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment states that gang members are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in others. According to a report the California Attorney General released in 2014 titled Gangs Beyond Borders, gang membership increased by 40 percent nationally between 2009 and 2011, leading to higher levels of violent crime within California—particularly assault, extortion, home invasion, homicide, intimidation, and shootings—as well as increases both in arrests for human trafficking offenses and in seizures of drugs, weapons, and cash. Although gang populations are heavily concentrated in Southern California counties—Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego—gangs exist in communities across the State, as Figure 1 shows.
The CalGang Criminal Intelligence System
With funding from the Office of Criminal Justice Planning, CSRA International, Inc. (CSRA) developed the proprietary CalGang software in 1997.2 The system provides current gang information to law enforcement agencies that choose to use it (user agencies), ideally allowing those agencies to improve the efficiency of their criminal investigations, enhance officer safety, and better protect the public. Because CalGang allows user agencies to collect, store, and share intelligence information about individuals suspected—but not necessarily convicted—of being involved in criminal activity, it qualifies as a criminal intelligence system under Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 23 (federal regulations). These federal regulations—which CalGang’s oversight entities voluntarily choose to follow—state that criminal intelligence entries must be supported by reasonable suspicion that an individual or organization is involved in criminal conduct or activity and that the information entered into the system must be relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.
CalGang Regional Nodes and California Counties’ Gang Member and Affiliate Populations
Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of CalGang data obtained from the California Department of Justice as of November 23, 2015, and documents obtained from the California Gang Node Advisory Committee.
Note: We assigned gang members and affiliates based on the location of the law enforcement agency that initially entered them into CalGang. We excluded 1,797 individuals for whom we did not have valid county information.
A person can be entered into CalGang either as a documented gang member or as an affiliate (an individual who is known to associate with active gang members and whom a law enforcement officer reasonably suspects may be involved in criminal activity or enterprise). As of November 2015, more than 150,000 people were in CalGang, and the average length of time they had been in CalGang was five and a half years. Table 1 summarizes the number of people that law enforcement agencies added and removed from CalGang since January 2010 and shows that more people have been removed from than added to CalGang since 2011.
|Affiliates manually deleted
|Gang members purged
|Gang members manually deleted
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of CalGang data obtained from the California Department of Justice as of November 23, 2015.
* Our analysis for 2015 was limited to additions and removals that occurred as of November 23, 2015.
CalGang is what is called a pointer system; the records within it point—or refer—to documents outside of CalGang that contain information about suspected gang members and their affiliates, such as arrest reports, reports of interactions with law enforcement officers in the field, and booking photographs. Using those documents and in‑person observations, law enforcement agency staff—generally gang enforcement officers or administrative staff—record in CalGang various data points about gang members, including their names, birth dates, races, genders, known addresses, vehicles, physical descriptors, and personal markings such as tattoos. CalGang also captures information specific to gang culture, such as monikers, aliases, gang symbols, gang colors, gang territories, weapons, drugs, and gang affiliates. However, law enforcement agencies must use the information contained in records external to CalGang as the bases for any official actions, such as arrests or applications for search warrants, rather than the entries in CalGang itself. Figure 2 shows demographic information for individuals in CalGang by race, gender, and age.
Proportion of Gang Members and Affiliates in CalGang by Race, Gender, and Age
Source: California State Auditor’s analysis of CalGang data obtained from the California Department of Justice as of November 23, 2015.
* Other includes African, American Indian, and people of two or more races.
CalGang is the primary shared gang database law enforcement agencies use throughout the State. When we surveyed law enforcement agencies statewide, 92 percent of respondents asserted that CalGang was the only shared gang database their agencies used. When we reviewed information provided by the remaining 8 percent of respondents, we were able to verify only one additional shared gang database: the Sacramento County Known Persons File. However, just one law enforcement agency reported that many agencies within Sacramento County use this shared gang database. We describe our survey approach and analyze selected responses in Appendix A.
CalGang’s Oversight Entities and Costs
Several different entities are responsible for aspects of CalGang’s funding, operation, and oversight. Specifically, the CalGang Executive Board (board) and the California Gang Node Advisory Committee (committee) are the system’s two informal governing bodies. These two governing bodies work with 10 local agencies called node administrator agencies, as we discuss below. In addition, the California Department of Justice (Justice) helps to administer CalGang by funding its annual software maintenance contract with CSRA and providing technology and infrastructure support.
CalGang’s board is composed of 15 total voting members representing node administrator agencies, Justice, and three statewide law enforcement associations.3 According to the board’s bylaws, its objectives and purposes include providing oversight and policy direction, ensuring CalGang performs its intended functions, facilitating funding, and ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal standards. According to the board’s bylaws, the board elects a chairperson annually from the 15 voting members, and that chairperson appoints a vice chairperson. The board’s officers may serve consecutive terms. The bylaws direct the board to meet in conjunction with the committee or as needed.
Members of the committee act as CalGang operational subject matter experts. The committee’s bylaws establish that each node administrator agency can designate one voting committee member and that the Justice representative also acts as a voting committee member.4 Only voting members may serve as the committee’s chairperson, vice chairperson, and sergeant at arms. The committee’s objectives include developing, reviewing, and approving standardized training for CalGang user agencies; recommending changes to CalGang; exploring and developing funding strategies; recommending new legislation to reduce California’s criminal street gang problem; and evaluating requests from agencies that wish to serve as node administrator agencies.
As shown in Figure 1, node administrator agencies are mainly local law enforcement agencies. The node administrator agencies are responsible for providing training and overseeing CalGang user agencies—which may be local law enforcement agencies, probation departments, or district attorney’s offices—within a specified geographic area. They are also responsible for managing CalGang’s technical and administrative requirements, including auditing user agencies to ensure their compliance with federal laws and safeguards related to the storage of information. The committee’s policies and procedures (CalGang policy) outline the requirements that node administrator agencies oversee, including CalGang operations and user agency access. Figure 1 depicts each node administrator agency and the county or counties within its region.
Justice, the node administrator agencies, and CalGang user agencies all incur costs to support CalGang. For example, Justice entered into a sole‑source contract with CSRA for maintenance of the CalGang proprietary software. The value of this contract was about $283,000 for fiscal year 2015–16. In addition, Justice runs CalGang through its existing information technology network, purchases necessary hardware to store CalGang data, and pays its staff to provide necessary system support. Similarly, the node administrator agencies and CalGang user agencies are responsible for their own hardware and staffing costs. In response to our statewide survey, node administrators reported that they spent a total of about $1 million between fiscal years 2012–13 and 2014–15 for CalGang‑related costs, including purchasing required equipment, maintaining network communication lines, providing training to CalGang user agencies, and participating in required committee and board meetings. CalGang user agencies reported that they spent a total of about $78,000 over the same three fiscal years for personnel and travel costs.
CalGang policy outlines system operations and requirements that have their foundation in the federal regulations and in Justice’s Model Standards and Procedures for Maintaining Criminal Intelligence Files and Criminal Intelligence Operational Activities, November 2007 (state guidelines). Although the federal regulations are not directly applicable to CalGang, the board and committee adopted requirements for operating CalGang that they based on the federal regulations and state guidelines.5 The requirements include node administrator agency and CalGang user agency training, system audit and record purges, and information security and dissemination. CalGang policy also states that only properly trained individuals may access CalGang. We describe these requirements in more detail in the Audit Results.
CalGang policy also specifies the criteria that individuals must meet before user agencies can add them to CalGang. Before a CalGang user can add an individual to CalGang as a gang member, a trained law enforcement officer generally must affirm that the individual meets at least two gang membership criteria. As shown in Table 2, these criteria include admitting to gang membership, being affiliated with known gang members, and exhibiting gang clothing or behavior. As previously discussed, a user can also add an individual as a gang affiliate if a law enforcement officer suspects the individual is involved in criminal activity and he or she affiliates with a documented gang member. According to CalGang policy, users must have sufficient source documentation to support CalGang entries.
(Reasons for entering an Individual into CalGang)
|Frequency of use for initial entry
|1. Subject has admitted to being a gang member.
|2. Subject has been seen associating with documented gang members.
|3. Subject is known to have gang tattoos.
|4. Subject has been seen frequenting gang areas.
|5. Subject has been seen wearing gang dress.
|6. In-custody classification interview.*
|7. Subject has been arrested for offenses consistent with usual gang activity.
|8. Subject has been seen displaying gang symbols and/or hand signs.
|9. Subject has been identified as a gang member by a reliable informant/source.
|10. Subject has been identified as a gang member by an untested informant.
Sources: Policy and Procedures for the CalGang System, California Gang Node Advisory Committee; and California State Auditor’s analysis of CalGang data obtained from the California Department of Justice as of November 23, 2015.
* Admission of gang membership during a custody classification interview is the one exception to the two‑criteria requirement.
Effective January 1, 2014, state law requires that if law enforcement agencies wish to enter juveniles—defined as individuals younger than 18 years of age—into a shared gang database such as CalGang, the user agencies must first notify the juveniles and their parents or guardians in writing. Because those who receive the letters have a right to contest the gang designation, this notification should explain the juveniles’ rights to contest the gang designation. However, if the user agencies determine that notifications will compromise active criminal investigations or the juveniles’ health or safety, they are not required to provide the notifications or supply information to juveniles or their parents or guardians. We address the law’s requirements in more detail in the Audit Results.
Privacy Protections for Californians
Justice stated in the state guidelines that law enforcement agencies can collect criminal intelligence information for legitimate law enforcement purposes; the trade‑off, however, is that doing so potentially violates individuals’ privacy and other constitutional rights. The right to privacy is an implied constitutional right under the United States Constitution and an express constitutional right under the California Constitution. Therefore, both the federal regulations and the state guidelines establish certain standards for how law enforcement agencies may collect, maintain, and share criminal intelligence in a way that protects the privacy rights of the individuals in the intelligence files. Because the board and committee adopted requirements indicating that CalGang will comply with the federal regulations and state guidelines, these two bodies have a responsibility to develop processes to ensure CalGang operates according to those requirements. In addition, CalGang user agencies have a responsibility to thoroughly understand and follow the requirements.
Academics and citizen advocacy groups have expressed concerns about how collecting and storing criminal intelligence in a database such as CalGang can impinge on individuals’ rights. Many of these concerns relate to the discretion law enforcement agencies have in classifying groups of individuals as gangs and individuals as gang members. In particular, academic literature suggests that the broad criteria used to label gangs and gang members may make it difficult for youth living in gang‑heavy communities to avoid meeting the qualifying criteria and that gang labeling can stigmatize minority, inner‑city youth, limiting their social and economic opportunities. In addition, other critics have expressed concerns that collecting and disseminating criminal intelligence may infringe upon individuals’ constitutional rights, including the rights to free speech, to peaceably assemble, to protection from illegal search and seizure, and to equal protection under the law.
Ultimately, California’s law enforcement agencies must balance the need to protect individuals’ rights with the need to protect the public from crime caused by gangs. The law enforcement agencies can achieve this balance only through rigorous processes designed to ensure the information they maintain in CalGang is accurate and lawfully obtained.
Scope and Methodology
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee (Audit Committee) directed the California State Auditor to conduct an audit to understand the State’s adherence to relevant laws related to protecting the rights of individuals for whom information is entered into and removed from CalGang. It also asked us to determine the extent to which agencies across the State use CalGang. Table 3 lists the 15 objectives that the Audit Committee approved and the methods we used to address them.
Assessment of Data Reliability
In performing this audit, we obtained electronic data files extracted from CalGang as of November 23, 2015. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), whose standards we are statutorily required to follow, requires us to assess the sufficiency and appropriateness of computer‑processed information that we use to support our findings, conclusions, or recommendations. To accomplish this assessment, we performed data‑set verification and electronic testing of key data elements and identified significant issues. As we discuss in the Audit Results, we found many instances of questionable data entries related to individuals’ birthdates, criteria dates, purge dates, and individuals’ location information. We also conducted accuracy testing for a selection of 563 criteria entries pertaining to 100 individuals in the CalGang data and found that 23 percent were not adequately supported. Moreover, we identified concerns over the existing controls that safeguard CalGang information from inappropriate access and man‑made or natural disasters.
Due to these deficiencies, we did not perform further testing of the CalGang data, such as completeness testing. Consequently, additional weaknesses may exist that we did not identify during our review. As a result of the pervasive deficiencies identified, we determined that the CalGang data are not sufficiently reliable. Although our determination may affect the precision of the numbers we present, sufficient evidence in total exists to support our audit findings, conclusions, and recommendations in this report.
|Review and evaluate the laws, rules, and regulations significant to the audit objectives.
|We identified relevant federal regulations; state laws and guidelines; CalGang agreements; CalGang Executive Board (board) bylaws; the California Gang Node Advisory Committee (committee) bylaws; CalGang policies and procedures; and other background materials.
|Identify the number of gang database systems that exist in California and the extent to which they are used by agencies.
|See Method related to Audit Objective 13.
|Identify and evaluate the roles and responsibilities of the California Department of Justice (Justice), the committee, the board, and any other agencies involved in the management and oversight of CalGang, including the level of training provided to program administrators and operators to implement the CalGang program and ensure it complies with the law.
|Assess whether and to what extent access to and the release of data in CalGang is tracked and monitored to ensure all applicable laws, regulations, and policies and procedures are consistently followed. To the extent possible, determine the following for the latest year such information is available:
|a. The number of requests for information and the purpose of each request.
|b. The number of juveniles added to the system since January 1, 2014, and the number of related notifications made in accordance with Senate Bill 458 (Chapter 797, Statutes 2013) (SB458).
|c. The length of time each individual has been in CalGang.
For the most recent five years that data are available and to the extent possible, determine the following:
|a. The number of people added to and removed from CalGang by year and whether they were notified of such action.
|b. Demographics of individuals in CalGang, including age, gender, race, ethnicity, and geographic location.
|c. Number of requests for removal from CalGang received and the outcome of each.
|d. Number of juvenile appeals for removal received and the outcome of each.
|e. The criteria used for adding each individual to the system during this period.
|Determine whether individuals are removed from CalGang consistent with any guidelines established in law, regulations, and policies.
|Review and assess any evaluations of CalGang that have been conducted to determine its effectiveness in achieving its intended purpose.
|Determine the annual cost of CalGang and identify the major categories of expenditure.
|Determine whether policies and procedures exist to prevent, detect, and address possible conflicts of interest specific to contracting and spending related to the administration of CalGang.
|At a selection of law enforcement agencies, evaluate law enforcement's compliance with relevant laws and policies governing gang database systems.
|At a selection of local law enforcement agencies and for the most recent five years, identify the criteria being used to designate a person as a gang member for inclusion in CalGang and determine if the criteria align with the intended purpose of CalGang and with the definition of gang or gang member codified in Section 186.22 of the California Penal Code. To the extent possible, determine how frequently each criterion has been used to identify someone as a gang member.
|Determine how those with oversight responsibility ensure the following:
|a. CalGang operates in compliance with all relevant laws, regulations, and policies and procedures.
|b. The information included in CalGang is current, accurate, and reliable.
Survey local law enforcement agencies and visit selected local law enforcement agencies to determine the following:
|a. Whether the law enforcement employees who use CalGang are adequately trained to implement the program and ensure full compliance with the law.
|b. Whether the policies and procedures local law enforcement agencies have put in place are adequate for ensuring compliance with SB 458 and other applicable laws.
|c. How many requests for removal from CalGang have been submitted over the past five years and the outcomes of these requests.
|d. How many juvenile appeals have been made since the approval of SB458 and how many names have been removed through this appeal process.
|To the extent possible, evaluate the accuracy and completeness of the CalGang data, as well as the types of documentation maintained to support information entered into CalGang.
|We selected 100 individuals (25 from each of the local law enforcement agencies we reviewed) recorded in CalGang and evaluated the accuracy of criteria entries by analyzing supporting documentation. As we discuss in the Assessment of Data Reliability, we did not test the completeness of CalGang.
|Review and assess any other issues that are significant to the audit.
|We did not identify any other issues that were significant to the audit.
Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of Joint Legislative Audit Committee audit request number 2015-130, and information and documentation identified in the Table column titled Method.
2 CalGang is also known as GangNet, a system that federal law enforcement agencies, other states, and Canada use. Go back to text
3 The Los Angeles node has two voting members—the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department. Go back to text
4 California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) is listed as a voting member in the committee’s bylaws. However, CalEMA has not been represented at committee meetings since 2011, and the board voted to remove it as a voting member in 2014. Go back to text
5 According to Los Angeles, at the May 2016 committee meeting, the committee voted to remove the State guidelines from its requirements. However, as of July 28, 2016 the board had not voted on this recommendation. Go back to text