When police officers encounter an individual, whether as a result of a traffic stop, arrest for suspicion of a crime, even just a detention based on a suspicion, or other encounters, the officer may complete what is called a field interview card on the individual. These cards are most often used by the officer when the individual is suspected of being a member of, or affiliated with, a criminal street gang. If the police officer suspects gang affiliation or membership, the individual’s name, demographics, visible tattoos, suspected gang insignia or clothing, and so on is entered on the field interview card, which eventually ends up in the statewide CalGang database.
There have been many documented abuses of this practice. Among the most egregious abuse of this practice is the entry of false information about the individual that results in the individual being added to the CalGang database. Having your name on this database is not inconsequential. When an individual’s name is entered into this database, that person’s name shows up at every subsequent law enforcement encounter as a suspected gang member. This can have consequences even on a minor traffic stop. Individuals on this database are more likely to be a suspected by the officer and are often suspected in criminal investigations.
Recently at least 24 Los Angeles Police Department officers have been identified by LAPD for suspicion of falsifying information on field interview cards. Six of those officers now face criminal charges, the others have been assigned to desk duty or put on leave. They may yet be charged. These officers allegedly filled out field information cards identifying individuals as admitting gang membership when in fact those individuals made no such admission, and some outright denied it. The falsifications were discovered when the police bodycams were viewed relative to these particular contacts and field identification cards. An officer’s false report about an individual is a violation of that person’s due process rights and as I previously blogged about, it can haunt a person for years as a suspected gang member, when in fact there was no evidence to support the suspicion.