The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

GangNet criteria vague, potentially harmful

Mistakes in the U.S. justice system seem to be neither uncommon nor surprising.

Occasionally a big case of the wrongfully accused catches the public eye, but sometimes it’s the smaller injustices that go unnoticed that are the most troubling.

A good example of such an injustice is the GangNet network, which is used for profiling those accused of gang involvement in Minnesota.

Created in 1998 by the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department, GangNet is much less exclusive than the state’s Pointer File gang database and is much larger.

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In addition, it can take nearly a decade to for those who are deemed to be gang members to get off the list. And except in the case of rare circumstances, most people don’t even know they are on GangNet.

That’s where the problem lies.

Though GangNet is not authorized by the state, it is widely used by officers and often used by prosecutors when handing down sentences and can be used to deny handgun permits for those on it.

For some unfortunate people who are unaware they are even recorded on GangNet, it can also be a surprise when pursuing certain careers.

Whereas a person must be 14 or older and meet three of 10 vague criteria to be entered in the Pointer File, a person can commit only one offense and be entered in GangNet, merely because they meet some of the criteria, which includes being photographed with a supposed gang member, being identified by a reliable source as a gang member or being arrested in the company of an identified gang member.

The Pioneer Press published a story recently of a man studying to be a probation officer on their Web site. The man was encouraged by his professors to get a handgun for his occupation, but was denied after he was entered into GangNet due to a domestic conviction.

The article also mentioned that many law enforcement officials are unsure of the difference between GangNet and the Pointer File, an even scarier idea.

We feel that this might be a case of law enforcement stepping too far into uncertainty, and in turn putting the reputation of those that are not gang members at risk.

Though the Pointer File seems to be a useful and fairly well regulated law enforcement tool, the criteria of GangNet and its implementation seem too vague and dangerous when dealing with the futures and careers of citizens.

Though GangNet was started with a grant, the issue also begs the question of how much funding and manpower is needed to maintain this ineffective and massive database.

Obviously keeping tabs on gang activity – especially in Ramsey County – should be a top priority for law enforcement, that’s what the Pointer File is for.

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GangNet criteria vague, potentially harmful