Portland Police to Stop Labeling Gang Members: ‘Disproportionately Affects Minorities’

The department will also purge all stored data on suspected gang affiliates.

For twenty years, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has cataloged gang members and known associates in its databases. But after pressure from some in the community, that’s all about to be wiped clean because of arguments that minorities are unfairly targeted.

According to Oregon Live, “Police were able to add someone to the list if the person self-identified as a member of a gang, participated in a gang initiation ritual, committed a gang-related crime or displayed two or more observable signs of gang membership.”

The “gang” label would appear with the name of a suspect, as well as any other identifiers, such as nicknames, employers schools, etc., to aid police in investigations. However, the PPB is removing the designation because it was discovered that “criminal gang affiliate” was applied over 100 times each year which didn’t lead to any convictions or arrests. Another reason to retire the decades-old practice is because police are using more advanced technologies which negate any need to identify people as gang members, the report states.

"Gang violence isn't going to go away,” Capt. Mike Krantz said. "We're not pretending gang violence doesn't exist. We're just taking this one thing away.”

Krantz has been trying for two years to get the gang affiliations off the record after PPB’s database showed 81% of the 359 “criminal gang affiliates” were minorities. He lobbied for the change along with other members of the community, including the members of Black Male Achievement (BMA).

“It takes courage for the bureau to take this step,” BMA coordinator C.J. Robbins said.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler added, “This is too long coming. It was the right thing to do.” Wheeler has been praised for appointing the city’s first black woman as police chief.

Krantz said no one will be labeled a gang member anymore, but the department will continue recording criminal conduct, gun possession, or involvement with a crime and those things will still flag on officers’ computer screens. All past "gang" designations will be completely wiped from the system, as well.

"It's a beautiful thing,” said Choo Fair, a former Bloods gang member-turned mentor for parolees. “They can no longer label anybody.”

The West Coast is really leading the way these days in new approaches to law enforcement. The Sacramento, California, city council just approved a new measure that allots a $1.5 million payment to gang members as an incentive to stop killing other people. If Sacramento stops labeling gang members, too, how on earth will they know who to pay off?

Photo credit: a town called malice via Foter.com / CC BY