Boston Police Has a Secret Point System That Turns Normal Teenage Behavior Into Gang Membership

In the face of the Trump administration’s stepped-up deportation efforts, officials in Boston and other progressive cities have declared their communities safe spaces for immigrants. But behind the scenes, progressive havens like Boston are facilitating the deportations of some of our most vulnerable young people.

As the federal government’s rhetoric and action around immigration have sharpened and hardened, young immigrants are being systematically slandered and deprived of their rights here in Massachusetts. Too many are inaccurately and unfairly alleged to be involved in gangs, according to a Boston Police Department database, and as a result, find themselves on the fast track to deportation.

There’s a lot we don’t know about Boston Police Department’s “gang database” — which is why this week, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts, and other groups filed a public records lawsuit to bring some transparency to the system. Here’s what we do know: Being included in it can have dire consequences for a young person’s life.

We know the tragic impact gang violence has on communities where it occurs. In fact, many of our clients are youth who fled Central America to escape such horrific violence. But ironically, they are now being detained or deported back to that violence merely because of who they are, who they know, and even what they wear.

What is particularly troubling is that these Central American youth are being accused of gang membership using evidence no stronger than a house of cards. Without their knowledge, young people of color in Boston go about their lives, earning “points.” Police officials decide what “points” apply to whom. You might be thinking: If the police say my client is a gang member, he must be. But the way police assign “points” enables law enforcement to label people as gang members even if they’ve never been suspected of any wrongdoing.

One of our clients caught by the database’s arbitrary point system is a Salvadoran teenager who fled gang violence in his home country. In Massachusetts, law enforcement officials labeled him a gang member not because he was arrested for gang violence or suspected of engaging in it. Rather they labeled him that way because he was the victim of an assault at school. The crime committed against him cost him eight points. He was “verified” when he was seen leaving school with other supposedly "verified" gang members. If a youth is seen with a “verified” gang member — who could very well be another innocent kid arbitrarily labeled — that’s two points. If he’s seen again with the same person — even if they’re engaging in innocuous conduct like standing at a bus stop or crossing a park — that’s another two points. If he’s seen at school with a “verified” gang member, that’s five points — even if they are sitting at a lunch table because they’ve been assigned to work on a group project together. Wearing a Chicago Bull’s hat, a black rosary, or even a blue shirt — no matter that it’s his school uniform — could earn him four points. Once he reaches 10 points, he’s a “verified” gang member. The police enter his name into the Boston Regional Intelligence Center’s Gang Assessment Database, which is shared with other law enforcement agencies. 

Despite the fact that Boston has proclaimed itself a safe city for immigrants, the Boston Police Department is collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement by making information in its “gang database” available to federal immigration authorities. That’s when we encounter the allegations: In immigration court, where a Department of Homeland Security prosecutor uses them as “evidence” that a client should be detained or deported. This system leads to false identifications. And in the immigration context, that has disastrous, life-altering consequences for some of the most vulnerable young people in Massachusetts.

Recently, a young client showed up to a meeting at our office wearing a Chicago Bulls hat, a four-point offense. Although the Bulls are one of the most popular basketball teams in the world, we had to advise him to stop wearing the hat. The client said he understood, paused, and then asked if his other hats were still okay to wear.

A sad thought crosses our minds when we have conversations like this with our clients: One way to protect them from being profiled, mislabeled by school police as gang members, and deported would be to advise them to stop attending school. Peer interactions can become the evidence against them in immigration court. In fact, it is hard to imagine how teenagers in neighborhoods that have a large population of Central American youth avoid being seen with “verified” gang members when there may be so many at their school, whose “verification” is unknown to them.

Boston aims to protect its immigrants. Every day in immigration court, we see how the gang database system undermines that promise for teenagers across the city.

View comments (45)
Read the Terms of Use


Police officers should clearly understand that they are permanently defaming the kids they place on these lists. Computer blacklists are forever - a life sentence without charge, trial, judge, jury or guilty verdict. This practice probably destroys more native born Americans than immigrants. It is also a violation of the Federal Criminal Code, although the U.S. Department of Justice is currently not enforcing these laws, one day soon the DOJ may start enforcing laws governing illegal “guilt-by-association”. When the DOJ does start enforcing laws, there is a long and permanent electronic paper-trail leading back to the police officer that falsified a report. Most police officers are probably well-intentioned but should read the 2011 book “The Rights of the People” by David K. Shipler. It’s a great education that apparently police chiefs and police commissioners aren’t currently providing for their officers. In cases like this, people harmed, years later, may go after the police officer’s “personal assets” which is not protected by “sovereign immunity”. Sovereign Immunity only protects “constitutional” or official actions by police officers. Unconstitutional actions have never been official actions and are NOT protected. When a Plaintiff goes after a police officer’s personal assets in court, the police chief and U.S. Department of Justice have absolutely no authority over the court. Police officers need to educate themselves since apparently their police chiefs aren’t providing that education.


Thank you so much for your advise. I will give this book as a Holiday present to my nephews and myself. Best regards,


Sometimes a little history puts things in perspective: If today’s technology, operating in a lawless constitutional system like post 9/11, had existed in the early 1800’s - the “immigrants” being harmed would have been Irish Catholics (one of Boston’s largest groups today). Boston was originally an English Protestant colony. When the Potato Famine hit Ireland in the 1800’s, it resulted in a huge influx of Irish immigrants rushing into predominantly English Boston. It’s very likely Boston’s then English Protestant police force would have used guilt-by-association and defamation labeling them as “gangs” against Irish Catholics. It’s easy to pick on immigrants but don’t forget we were all immigrants once also.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels

Ever since those two jerks from Slobovia fired off those pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon the Boston police have been real nervous about young people. Do they give extra points if you are from Slobovia?


In a free nation with guaranteed individual liberties - the “ends” never justify unconstitutional “means”. The U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, are designed to RESTRAIN the authority of all government officials, including police officers. American officials have never had such authority to practice guilt-by-association. That has never been legal in the USA. The big question is who polices the police management giving illegal orders to their officers?

Manny Perez

As a former police officer in the city of Boston, I’m too aware of these practices. Im happy to see the ACLU is on it.


Uhm??? Let's focus and do not get distract what we need to survive: health Insurance, Clean Water, good public transportation, good public education and Medicare when we are retired. Racism and anti-immigration will not help us to pay our bills and improve our life. The government say there is not money to solve the problems. Of course not if the Corporations/1% do not pay taxes! Thank You ACLU for bringing light to this injustice situation. If the Mayor Walsh and BP Commissioner Grossman do not have a thing to hide, they should have released the documents, in good faith, requested by ACLU long time ago before litigation. ACLU do not give up. We are behind You! We can see Mayor Walsh and BP Commissioner Grossman's game. We are kind, but not stupid!


Sounds like there is new technology that may one day replace many, if not most, human police officers. The Washington Post published an article on November 29, 2018 titled "Drivers even more distracted during the holidays" by WP reporter Ashley Halsely. Although police unions generally lobby against a police officer's constitutional loyalty oath - Oath of Office - upholding their loyalty oath may save police jobs longterm. The critical question of the article is "How do you tell who is driving and who is the passenger?". The maker of the smart phone app claims they can tell when the person enters and exits the vehicle (clock-wise or counter-clockwise motion entering or exiting). If this app can do everything it advertises, there is no need for a human police officer to monitor traffic. In this case requiring constitutional due process may save millions of police jobs. In the short-term what is likely to happen is for officers to use these apps to illegally manufacture probable cause and suspicion but never record that fact in the in-person ticketing. There should be a judicial warrant to access this information.

Agustin Guerrero

Looks like Boston PD learned very well from the Nazi Germany how to label human beings just because of their ethnicity, country of origin, skin color, race or lawful affiliation.

Mark Sullivan

Are there any community standards on the comment board? The racist slurs...c’mon ACLU, clean up this mess. Also, these anonymous commenters are gutless.


Stay Informed