By Charles Hallman
The 1997 Minnesota Legislature mandated that a computerized criminal gang data system be set up to assist local law enforcement agencies statewide. The pros and cons of what became the Minnesota Criminal Gang Pointer File are now being aired in a review of the database.
State lawmakers last year established the Violent Crime Coordinating Council to reevaluate whether the current Minnesota Criminal Gang Pointer File needs to be modified or scrapped altogether and replaced with a new method of identifying people involved in gangs. Mostly composed of local and regional law enforcement officials, the 19-member council held three public forums during the last three months to get input from community members.
“This was the best of the three [forums],” said St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds of the December 1 forum held at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul. “The first one [held in September] was out in Highland Park, and only a couple of people from our community were able to show up,” she recalled.
“That actually was going to be the only meeting, but we expressed concern that community members were not at the table in terms of having an opportunity to [say] how the 10-point criteria affects their lives.”
After the first meeting, two additional meetings were held, one at Little Earth in November and the other last week in St. Paul, Levy-Pounds added. Other than representatives of the St. Paul NAACP, the great majority of participants in the meeting appeared to be law enforcement professionals rather than community members.
State statute presently says that a law enforcement agency can submit data on an individual who is 14 years of age or older; who has been convicted of a gross misdemeanor or felony; who has a stayed adjudication as an juvenile for an offense that would be considered a gross misdemeanor or felony if convicted as an adult; or who meets at least three of the 10-point criteria used to identify gang members.
A 2009 joint report by the St. Paul NAACP and the University of St. Thomas Law School’s Community Justice Project concluded that the Pointer File’s 10-point criteria system has too often misidentified Blacks and other persons of color as gang members.
“We hear it all over the community” that a fairer system of identifying gang members is needed, admitted St. Paul Assistant Police Chief and Council Chair Ken Reed. As a result, the overall consensus among the community residents who attended the two-hour meeting last week was to eliminate the Pointer File and devise a better system.
Diane Binns of the St. Paul NAACP and a Ramsey County probation officer pointed out, “I think we need to have a system [to accurately identify] who is a gang member. The criteria need to be looked at again.”
David Conover of Minneapolis said that his name is in the file but he doesn’t know why. “I’m not in a gang,” he declared to the council members.
The Pointer File has “victimized and terrorized” Blacks and other people of color, said Kasim Abdur Razzaq of St. Paul. “It has some really negative consequences on our community.”
Based on two of the criteria — observed to associate regularly with known gang members, and corresponds with or receives correspondence about gang activities — 62-year-old Derius Presley, Sr. of St. Paul told the forum that he believes that he probably is on the list because two of his sons work with local gang members.
“I easily could be on the list, just like everyone else in the community,” agreed Resa Dubow of St. Cloud.
“If you can’t say with confidence why this database exists, then why have it?” asked St. Paul NAACP President Jeffry Martin, who was very critical of the current criteria system. Afterwards, he said that he was unsure if the council members who were in attendance really understood the community concerns about it.
“Will this meeting lead to something that’s productive and make both sides happy? Definitely not,” said Martin, adding that he would like to see “an independent body” also working on this problem.
He also was concerned that last week’s forum was not well publicized. “They say they sent out notices, but I say they did not.”
Levy-Pounds said, “We heard from one committee member that he was touched on what he heard, and it really made him think. That was a relief to see that someone [from law enforcement] got it, the pain and passion that people have surrounding this issue.
“But we need to see the results on paper, and until we see that, we obviously can’t be sure that what was said was heard,” said Levy-Pounds. “My hope is that they took to heart what the people were saying.”
“I think we were pushed to another level, and we are challenged to rise to the occasion,” said retired St. Paul police officer Melvin Carter, who attended last week’s forum. He and Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones are the only Black members on the council.
Council member Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein told the MSR that he estimates “a minimum of 60 to 90 days” or sometime next February when the council will issue its recommendations to the state public safety commissioner.
When asked how much time the public will have to review the council recommendations before the final report is completed, Goldstein said, “I don’t know, but obviously we have to give people that opportunity.”
Former St. Paul NAACP president Nathaniel Khaliq was among several residents who strongly suggested that community involvement is needed in devising a better way to identify gang members. “There has to be a narrowly defined set of criteria that the community is part of establishing,” he noted.
Goldstein said that the comments and suggestions offered at last week’s forum will be taken into consideration. “Obviously there is a lot of work to be done,” he concluded. “I’m challenged by figuring out what recommendations are best, because there are issues and concerns that need to be addressed. Not just the 10-point criteria, but also the accuracy of our gang investigations.”
Community members are invited to write or email comments to the council at any time. To find out more about the Violent Crime Coordinating Council, including information about how to contact the members, go to the council’s website: https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ojp/Pages/violent-crimes-coordi nating-council.aspx.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]