Settling two lawsuits that alleged discriminatory and unjustified surveillance of Muslims, the New York City Police Department has agreed to new safeguards against overly broad surveillance. The deal calls for a civilian representative to monitor police investigations involving political or religious activity.
The settlement deal promises a new chapter in a long-running dispute, in which the plaintiffs say they were the subject of baseless surveillance and profiling by the NYPD.
"New York City's Muslim residents are strong partners in the fight against terrorism, and this settlement represents another important step toward building our relationship with the Muslim community," Mayor Bill de Blasio says. "Our city's counterterrorism forces are the best in the world, and the NYPD will continue working tirelessly to keep our city safe in the fight against terror while respecting our residents' constitutional rights."
The agreements in the two cases, Raza v. City of New York and Handschu v. Special Services Division, are subject to court approval. In reaching the agreement, New York City did not admit to improper behavior by its police department.
Under the terms of the deal, the mayor will appoint a civilian representative to the NYPD advisory committee; that representative is to be an attorney who is bound by confidentiality rules.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which was directly involved in one of the cases, says the Raza suit was filed "on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organization, alleging they were swept up in the NYPD's dragnet surveillance of Muslims." The suit accused the police of violating the New York and U.S. Constitutions "by singling out and stigmatizing entire communities of New Yorkers based on their religion."
In the Handschu case, the rights group says, the plaintiffs "argued that the NYPD's investigations of Muslims violated a long-standing consent decree in that case, which was a class action to protect New Yorkers' lawful political and religious activities from unwarranted NYPD surveillance." Dating back to the 1970s, the Handschu case had brought protections that were eased in 2003 at the NYPD's request, according to the ACLU.
The case resulted in the establishment of the Handschu Guidelines, which the NYPD describes as "a set of rules governing investigations of terrorism and other potentially unlawful political activity. "
Those rules will now include additional policies that the NYPD says it has made standard practice in recent years, including one that bars officers from pursuing investigations in cases in which "race, religion, or ethnicity is the substantial or motivating factor."