Source: Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department will tighten safeguards against illegal surveillance of Muslims in secret investigations of terror threats and install a civilian representative on an advisory committee that reviews the probes under the terms of a settlement of two high-profile civil rights lawsuits, lawyers said Thursday.
The announcement of a deal came after months of negotiations aimed at formally ending litigation over accusations that the nation’s largest police department had cast a shadow over Muslim communities with a covert campaign of religious profiling and illegal spying.
“We are committed to strengthening the relationship between our administration and communities of faith so that residents of every background feel respected and protected,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The suits were among legal actions that followed reports by The Associated Press that revealed how city police infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques and otherwise spied on Muslims as part of a broad effort to prevent terrorist attacks.
The NYPD didn’t admit any wrongdoing, and the city won’t pay any damages other than about $1.6 million for the plaintiff’s legal fees. The department instead agreed to codify civil rights and other protections required under the court-ordered Handschu decree, which was put in place in response to surveillance used against war protesters in the 1960s and ’70s. The decree was relaxed after the Sept. 11 terror attacks to allow police to more freely monitor political activity in public places.
Civil rights groups sued in 2013 in federal court in Manhattan, accusing the NYPD of breaking Handschu rules. A second suit filed that year in Brooklyn federal court by mosques, a charity and community leaders alleged that the department was discriminating against Muslims.
Among the plaintiffs in the Brooklyn case was Hamid Hassan Raza, an imam who claimed the NYPD’s practice of cultivating informants and using undercover investigators had spread fear and suspicion at his mosque. He called the deal important “not only for New York Muslim communities but for other minorities in New York and beyond.”
The city began settlement talks last year, and a tentative deal in the Brooklyn case was reached in June. The final agreement “will curtail practices that wrongly stigmatize individuals” while making investigations “more effective by focusing on criminal behavior,” said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.