New report takes anti-gang initiative 'Operation Crew Cut' to task

Stephon Johnson | 12/12/2019, 10:13 a.m.
During New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term the New York Police Department launched an initiative to take ...
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD Nayaba Arinde photo

During New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first term the New York Police Department launched an initiative to take on gangs in the city. Then Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced “Operation Crew Cut” doubling the number of officers (150 to 300) dedicated to targeting teens “loosely affiliated” who define themselves by the blocks they live on and “are responsible for much of the violence in public housing.”

The NYPD also recreated the “Criminal Group Database” to track alleged gang members in an attempt to wipe out gang violence. The database includes almost 17,500 people allegedly affiliated with gangs.

A new report unveiled today details how much harm both of these operations have reaped on New York’s Black and Brown teenagers.

“Gang Takedowns In The De Blasio Era: The Dangers of Precision Policing” details how, through large scale conspiracy cases, how thousands of juveniles and adults were arrested and placed in a secretive gang database and were subjected to threats, surveillance and harassment. The report is part of the announcement of the Erase The Database NY Campaign that includes The Legal Aid Society, JustLeadershipUSA, the Bronx Defenders, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, VOCAL-NY and various community organizations.

Produced by Josmar Trujillo and The Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College Professor Alex Vitale, the report reveals how the new focus on loose associations of young people to gang members came right when the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” practices came under scrutiny. The report shows how the force used this as a roundabout way to keep taps on young people of color using the term “gang” to keep the public from knowing what’s really going on.

“Ironically, we’re releasing this report as a way of cataloguing all of the issues and problems with the way that the NYPD catalogues New Yorkers of color,” said Trujillo to the AmNews. “However, this report is merely a first step of identifying some of the concerns that public residents and public defenders have raised.

The NYPD’s “Criminal Group Database,” doesn’t require a criminal conviction for a person to be included in it. On top of its criteria, the department expanded its “self-admission” criteria to include social media posts, which expands the possibility of criminalizing Black and Brown kids.

Trujillo wants an independent body to investigate the police’s practices.

“We also need a thorough and independent report from the NYPD Inspector General’s office, like what has already been done in other cities, to give us more information about the gang database and the gang units that police communities of color like militarized battlefields,” said Trujillo. “We believe that the more the public knows about the NYPD’s gang tactics, the more they will be outraged.”

A spokesperson for the NYPD told the AmNews that the gang database is justified.

"There are two ways a person can be included in the Criminal Group Database. The first requires that one of the following occur: a self-admission of gang membership to a member of the Department; being identified as a gang member by two independent and reliable sources; or social media posts admitting to membership in a gang," said Sergeant Jessica McRorie, DCPI Spokesperson. The second way requires two of the following to be true: frequent presence at a known gang location; possession of gang-related documents; association with known gang members; social media posts with known gang members while possessing known gang paraphernalia; scars and tattoos associated with a particular gang, frequent wearing of the colors and frequent use of hand signs that are associated with particular gangs.