Settlement In Lawsuit Over NYPD's Surveillance Of Muslims Bringing A Long List Of Reforms To City's Policing
from the suing-the-cops-back-into-compliance-with-the-Constitution dept
The NYPD considers itself to be the finest police force in the nation, if not the world. But its track record says otherwise. It lost a lawsuit over its “stop and frisk” program, thanks to its unconstitutionality and appearance of racial bias. It is currently in the middle of a lawsuit related to illegal summons quotas — one in which it destroyed documents it was ordered to preserve. And now, it has just lost another lawsuit related to its biased policing.
The NYPD’s pervasive surveillance of the city’s Muslim population violated civil liberties on a massive scale. Despite being given an incredible amount of leeway to pursue its counter-terrorist activities, the so-called “Demographics Unit” did useless things like pressure informants into making stuff up to justify surveillance efforts and designate entire mosques as terrorist entities. What it didn’t do, however, is generate any useful intelligence.
The proposed settlement includes modification of the guidelines along two principal lines: incorporating new safeguards and installing a civilian representative within the NYPD to reinforce all safeguards.
A civilian representative will be a welcome change from the internal “oversight” performed by the NYPD — which has been pretty much nonexistent. The program was started by an ex-CIA officer who seemingly assumed he could treat US citizens with the same disregard as foreign nationals.
A long list of stipulations could bring about much-needed changes in NYPD counter-terrorist program.
- Prohibiting investigations in which race, religion, or ethnicity is a substantial or motivating factor
- Requiring articulable and factual information regarding possible unlawful activity before the NYPD can launch a preliminary investigation into political or religious activity
- Requiring the NYPD to account for the potential effect of investigative techniques on constitutionally protected activities such as religious worship and political meetings
- Limiting the NYPD’s use of undercovers and confidential informants to situations in which the information sought cannot reasonably be obtained in a timely and effective way by less intrusive means
- Putting an end to open-ended investigations by imposing presumptive time limits and requiring reviews of ongoing investigations every six months
- Installing a civilian representative within the NYPD with the power and obligation to ensure all safeguards are followed and to serve as a check on investigations directed at political and religious activities. The civilian representative must record and report any violations to the police commissioner, who must investigate violations and report back to the civilian representative. If violations are systematic, the civilian representative must report them directly to the judge in the Handschu case.
- Removing from the NYPD website the discredited and unscientific “Radicalization in the West” report, which justified discriminatory surveillance, and affirming that the report is not and will not be relied upon to open or prolong NYPD investigations
These reforms aren’t set in stone yet. A still-pending class action suit over violations of the NYPD’s Handschu Agreement (an agreement that was subverted by the CIA officer heading the Demographics Unit, who used post-9/11 terrorism fears to carve huge holes in the stipulation, which forbade the surveillance of First Amendment-protected activity) must be resolved before the proposed settlement can go into effect. Fortunately, the remaining hearing in that case involves comments from the plaintiffs, rather than an attempt by the city to dial back the proposed reforms.
The NYPD has a chance to salvage its reputation. The problem is, it doesn’t see it that way, despite losing major lawsuits over two of its biggest programs. Without a doubt, the next few weeks will see plenty of criticism from the usual sources: District Attorney Cyrus Vance, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and, because there’s apparently no way to shut him up, NYPD union boss Pat Lynch. Any statements will only make these officials look worse as they’ll be arguing on behalf of the wholesale violation of civil liberties.