NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD's gang database is a list designed to fight gangs in the city, but some argue it's being used to brand the innocent.
Critics claim it's being used to keep certain ethnicities out of New York.
Victory Dempsey, 32, is a former gang member who served prison time at the age of 17 for attempted robbery. He says he left his gang life behind years ago, but claims the city's database still has him listed as a known member which he realized during a recent routine traffic stop.
"The fact that they detained me in the squad car because I'm labeled a gang member is outrageous to me and I did not know until that day," Dempsey said. "I happened to see a monitor and it said 'security risk'."
Dempsey, who now works for the Legal Aid Society, joined several community leaders at a city council public safety committee hearing at City Hal.
They called for an end to the gang database, and say it leaves a permanent blight on the record of people who have cleaned up their act.
"They can lose their housing," one woman said. "Their whole family can lose their housing."
"I believe this is sort of an ethnic cleansing of the city," criminal defense attorney Jason Martin said. "They're using these gang databases and different things and different policies to change the demographics of the city."
NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea defended the department's database, saying they've cut it down nearly fifty percent from 34,000 names in 2014 to over 17,000 in 2018. Additionally, he says each name on the list is reviewed every three years and on that person's 23rd and 28th birthdays.
Shea says identifying members has helped cut down crime.
"Membership is down, shootings are at all-time lows," Shea said. "When you look at the arrests, we haven't seen this low number in 26 years. Obviously something is going right."
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office says the database played an important role in combating gangs at the center of the city's violence
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