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 city has just settled with the plaintiffs in the Muslim surveillance lawsuit, which will bring with it a slew of reforms.

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.




Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 1:59am

    "We'll just add that to the pile of 'laws that don't apply to us' shall we?"

    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.

    If said 'civilian representative' can manage that trick, they should immediately be put in charge of solving poverty, world hunger, and allowing everyone to own a perfect house and vehicles of their choice, because clearly they are capable of miracles.

    The NYPD has demonstrated very clearly that they don't believe laws or court orders apply to them and have no problem destroying evidence to hide their actions, so the idea that they'd allow a civilian representative to poke their nose into matters which might make the NYPD look bad is laughable.

    Of course, the fact that even if the representative finds anything the person they report it to is the police commissioner does rather keep the potential of 'embarrassment' to a minimum, as I imagine the overwhelming majority of 'investigations' conducted by the commissioner will return a 'nothing wrong, no need for any punishment' verdict.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 2:50pm

      Re: "We'll just add that to the pile of 'laws that don't apply to us' shall we?"

      I suspect that civilian representative is going to be run off its feet, never finding a moment's sleep. I hope they at least pay them well ("Chyaa, right!" ha ha :-).

      I expect some city councilman is going to see the need for a new city fiefdom, staffed by thousands, with a representative in the back seat of every cop car, sort of like a political officer in the USSR on every ship or submarine. It won't work, of course. SOP == SNAFU.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    annonymouse, 11 Jan 2016 @ 3:51am

    Until such time they start putting butts into an out of state prison there will be same old same old.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 4:03am

    The problem is the optics from the top. They are convinced that anyone not like them is a threat. They willfully overlook violations of the alleged rights of these people to keep everyone "safe". They rubber stamp investigations into alleged misconduct and the message is stop getting caught violating peoples rights, not to stop doing it.

    They can drum up "public" support for their actions by playing up the fears of the unknown and keeping the stereotype of the lone wolf muslim terrorist alive and well. When something happens look at the first thoughts - power goes out everyone is asking if it was terrorists 17 days later after rousting & harassing innocent people they discover a fscking squirrel touched the wrong 2 wires together. But rare is the statement saying trying to call this terrorism related is much to early to consider, it is always we rule nothing out. They keep everyone afraid of their neighbors so that they won't talk to each other and see these targets as real people just living their lives like everyone else while held under suspicion of being an evil sleeper cell terrorist.

    This might make a change in the NYPD, but maybe after a couple more lawsuits. It did take that many for them to finally stop sodomizing people & think about holding those who did it responsible for committing those violent crimes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 4:16am

    These reforms are good but I wonder how effective they will be. Instead of settling the lawsuit, plaintiffs should have pressed for a ruling in their favor. Might be the only way anybody learns from this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 4:52am

      Re:

      They only way any of the police would learn from the lawsuit is if any fines were taken out of the pockets of those involved, and/or they were fired. The usual 'lesson' police get when they get sued, win, lose or settle is 'Do whatever you want, it's not like you pay the fine.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 11 Jan 2016 @ 4:52am

    Civilian Representative

    We have a new contended for "worst job ever"!

    This individual will either be hated by the NYPD, everyone else, or (most likely) everyone. They will be the subject of blackmail, threats, ridicule, and almost certainly lawsuits.

    Good luck buddy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 5:56am

      Re: Civilian Representative

      They will be the subject of blackmail, threats, ridicule, and almost certainly lawsuits.

      All that and the public might have something to say about them too!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 6:20am

    Is the NYPD screwed up? Of course, but that still doesn't mean that they are not the BEST police force in the world.

    That bar might not be all that high.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 6:31am

      Re:

      Is the NYPD a Montauk Monster? Of course, but that doesn't mean that they are not the best Monster in the world.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Cliff, 11 Jan 2016 @ 7:37am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Jan 11th, 2016 @ 6:20am

      'Best' is pretty hard to quantify - for instance if we measure them on gun crime per populus they're WAY behind the whole of Europe ;-)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 4:15pm

      Re:

      Is the NYPD screwed up? Of course, but that still doesn't mean that they are not the BEST police force in the world.

      Define "best." What's the standard by which they're judged? London Bobbies used to hold that honour. The force that drove Frank Serpico to seek asylum in Switzerland is hardly in the running, and I haven't seen much lasting improvement sought since then. Their political masters haven't been much help in that area either.

      In their favour, NY is a big problem, and NYPD is a big organization. It's going to take superior skills, organization, and management to keep a handle on it all. Add to that, Albany's a long way away from NYC.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 7:38am

    FUBAR

    The person designated as the civilian representative will be met with the same consideration as FOIA queries, Inspector General requests, Court Orders, Civilian Review Board interrogatories, and press questions; contempt, disdain, hand waving, procrastination, excuses, invalid attempts, insincere tries, and plain simple getting ignored.

    They have already shown that previous agreements (Handschu agreement) and court orders have little impact, so what will be different about this agreement? Nothing. Situation Normal All Fouled Up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 7:44am

    from the suing-the-cops-back-into-compliance-with-the-Constitution dept
    This subheading got me thinking. You want the right to take pictures of public buildings? Gotta sue the government. Want the right to take pictures of cops in public? Sue the city. Want cops to stop randomly murdering unarmed people? Sue the cops (note: global press coverage and possibly arson also required). Want the NSA to admit to already-public information about mass domestic surveillance? Sue the NSA. Want the standing to sue the NSA? Sue the government to be granted the right to sue the NSA. Want a response to your FOIA request about Stingrays? Sue the FBI. Want a response to pretty much any FOIA request? Yep, you got it: gonna be a lawsuit involved.

    These same categories of lawsuits happen over and over and over again, and have become so common that they now seem like an expected and necessary step in the bureaucratic process. If you want anything from any government agency anywhere, filing a lawsuit has to be a budgeted part of one's expenses. And now I'm worried, because I need to renew my driver's license soon but I don't have a lawyer on retainer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    seedeevee (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 9:36am

    nothing changed

    "This Stipulation and Order does not create any additional rights of enforcement, or forms of relief available, for alleged violations of the Modified Handschu Guidelines."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 9:37am

    Riiiiight

    "The NYPD considers itself to be the finest police force in the nation"

    ..and that's where my brain goes pfffffff..... for anyone with that big of an ego.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 11 Jan 2016 @ 9:59am

    The Origins.

    In 1915, a corrupt NYPD Lieutenant named Charles Becker was executed in New York's electric chair for ordering the murder of a bookmaker. That is the essential truth of the NYPD, and its persistent corruption over a hundred years.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Becker

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2016 @ 11:58am

    Call me doubtful if I believe this will change anything in a culture of bullies that prefer to intimidate brutalize and murder anyone that gets in their way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 2:00pm

    Gummy bear agreement

    I don't see anything here that will force the NYPD to do anything to improve its behavior.

    Provisions that can be weaseled around. Listen quietly to hear the future NYPD whisper: But it is about extremism, terrorism and crime, never about race, religion or ethnicity.

    Another civilian representative with no investigative or enforcement authority, who must report to the commissioner who set the broken policies in the first place. Or, should representative conclude the commissioner is shirking, to a judge who must have a good working relationship with NYPD.

    And, of course, that representative must report only to those dignitaries...no talking to the press allowed. Says it right there, in plain weasel-text: "...must record and [must] report to..." (as reported, the word "must" applies to both recording and reporting).

    We've seen this before, with the "Hanschu Decree." (Wikipedia) What happened to it? Abrogated by the judge, at NYPD demand. So much for agreements with no teeth. Gummy bear agreements.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 11 Jan 2016 @ 2:38pm

    What, we can't be racist fucks any more?!?

    Remember the mayor in Ghostbusters? Paraphrased: "New Yorkers consider it a god given right to be nasty and insulting to each other!"

    I wouldn't expect any miracles to happen here. I kind of admire them for this attitude. It's New York after all, not Oregon. Anyone who doesn't like it can always leave.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.