Sheriff Matt Bostrom puts kibosh on GangNet database

Score one against Big Brother.

Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom sent a letter to police chiefs yesterday announcing that he is axing GangNet, a controversial database that catalogs information on suspected gang affiliates.

The idea behind the database was to help law enforcement crack down on violent offenders, but critics say it gives the cops too long of a leash to gather intelligence on anyone they want, including juveniles.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," says St. Thomas law professor Nekima Levy-Pounds.

Levy-Pounds worked on an assessment of GangNet in 2009.

In studying the database, she found "a number of concerns," including racial profiling, reliability of information, and lack of parental notification for juveniles.

"There didn't seem to be enough safeguards over all," she says. "Especially in light of the vast amounts of data that was being collected about individuals."

Bostrom's predecessor, Bob Fletcher, was a staunch advocate of GangNet.

In 2010, when the Legislature considered a bill that would quash the database, Fletcher wrote a letter arguing that such a law would dramatically hinder investigations into Twin Cities gang violence.

"If this proposal becomes law it will dismantle 20 years of progress in investigating and prosecuting gang members in Minnesota," Fletcher wrote to a legislative committee. "Officer safety will be jeopardized because officers will not have access to information regarding gang history."

But Bostrom wasn't so sure. In response to the criticisms, Bostrom sent out a survey to police chiefs earlier this year to see if GangNet was worth it, says Ramsey County Sheriff spokesman Randy Gustafson.

As it turned out, many chiefs had stopped putting information into the system which Gustafson says led to Bostrom's decision to cut it.

"Nobody was using it, so why should we keep it?" asks Gustafson.

GangNet will officially be out of commission August 15.

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