Lawsuit Challenges Wichita Police Department's Gang List As 'Unconstitutional'

Apr 16, 2021

The ACLU of Kansas and Kansas Appleseed are seeking to end the Wichita Police Department’s longstanding use of a confidential gang list, claiming it is unconstitutional.

The organizations filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of the juvenile justice nonprofit Progeny and several people included on the list of alleged gang members and gang associates. The City of Wichita, Wichita Police and the department’s gang unit supervisor Lt. Chad Beard are named as defendants.

The suit alleges the use of the gang list is “discriminatory, erroneous, harmful and unconstitutional.”

The WPD can add an individual to the gang list if they meet certain criteria: the person has admitted to membership in a gang; has been identified by an informant as a gang member; associates with known gang members; spends time in a known gang area, or wears certain colors or other clothing associated with a gang.

With the exception of juveniles, the department doesn’t notify people of their inclusion on the list.

The lawsuit alleges the department can add a person to the gang list “based on scant and unreliable evidence, or, indeed, no evidence at all.” People on the list are subject to heightened surveillance, the complaint says, and face enhanced bail bonds, probation and parole terms.

The suit also says the list disproportionately targets individuals of color: The ACLU’s analysis of publicly provided data from the WPD shows that of the roughly 2,400 individuals on the list, 60% are Black and about a quarter are Latinx.

Once a person is on the list, there’s no process for them to challenge the decision, and the WPD’s policy doesn't outline a process for removing a person.

“The result of this careless and unconstitutional designation, guided by an unconstitutionally vague and discretionary statute, is severe, ongoing, and lifelong harm to individuals included on the Gang List in violation of their constitutional right,” the complaint states.

The city and the WPD say they can’t comment on pending litigation.

The suit’s plaintiffs are seeking to have people currently on the list removed, and to prevent the WPD from creating or maintaining a gang list in the future.