By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A coalition of political activists filed a complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of New York City police surveillance practices, saying law enforcement overstepped privacy protections and spied on political groups and their members.
The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General, a watchdog post created last year by the City Council amid complaints over controversial policing practices such as stop-and frisk and surveillance of Muslim communities.
The complaint said the NYPD’s Intelligence Division sent undercover officers to political group meetings, spied on members, listed groups that used civil disobedience as “terrorist organizations” and maintained secret files on activists.
The complaint said the practices have occurred with more frequency since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and infringe on constitutionally protected rights to assemble, petition the government and exercise free speech.
“These kinds of police programs can’t just be laid at the feet of a post-9/11 world and the argument that security outweighs legal protections,” said Robert Jereski, a coordinator for the group Friends of Brad Will, one of the organizations bringing the complaint.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The audit request will be one of the first major tests for the new NYPD Inspector General Philip Eure, appointed in March shortly after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office and pledged to bring greater transparency to the nation's largest police force.
The creation of an independent inspector general’s office was staunchly opposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said it could hinder police activity.
The three groups bringing the complaint, using evidence from two other organizations, said the surveillance has cost money and police resources with “no appreciable benefit to public safety.”
Friends of Brad Will, a group created following the murder of U.S. journalist Brad Will in Mexico in 2006, said its activities have been "undermined by aggressive police monitoring" and coercive interrogation of its supporters.
Another group, Reclaim the Streets, a collective that supports the idea of community ownership of public spaces, said the NYPD intimidated meetings and marches and an undercover police officer infiltrated a group clean-up event.
The groups seek a full review of NYPD surveillance practices and "effective deterrents" of future programs that could infringe on political groups’ ability to assemble, Jereski said.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Edith Honan and David Gregorio)