Lawyer: NYC hopes surveillance deal alters image of police

AP News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2016 7:56 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City lawyer said Wednesday that the city hoped to improve the image of its police department when it reached a deal with civil rights advocates to allow a civilian to serve on a committee of high-ranking police officials as they discuss investigations relating to surveillance of political activities.

City attorney Peter Farrell made the comment as he urged a federal judge in Manhattan to approve a deal settling lawsuits contending that the police department had violated constitutional rights in its infiltration and surveillance of Muslim communities after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As part of the deal, an attorney chosen by the city's mayor and police commissioner would serve for five years on a committee along with a dozen New York Police Department officials to discuss the initiation, continuation and closing of investigations pertaining to political activities.

Farrell said the police department and city admitted no wrongdoing and continued to say it had acted lawfully in the past when it agreed in a deal announced in January to make changes in a 1980s consent decree, known as the Handschu Guidelines, that provides court oversight to police practices involving the surveillance. Changes also include a strengthening of language aimed at preventing investigations motivated by race, religion or ethnicity.

"The department has recognized and the city has recognized that the news articles that have come out from the city's perspective has created a lot of confusion and caused a lack of confidence in the process that takes place within the police department that investigations of political activity are being done under the terms of the guideline and in conformity with the Constitution," he said.

"In an effort to address what we perceive as incorrect perceptions and to provide confidence in the process for the public, the city as part of this settlement is agreeing to modify, taking the extraordinary step of agreeing to modify, the guideline and put changes in that are before you," Farrell told U.S. District Judge Charles Haight at the conclusion of a two-day hearing.

The judge reserved his decision after listening to about three dozen speakers discuss changes to the consent decree.

The deal grew in part from a 2013 lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court by mosques, a charity and community leaders alleging that the department was discriminating against Muslims.

Several years ago, The Associated Press revealed that New York City police spied on Muslims, infiltrated student groups and sent informants to mosques.

The Handschu Guidelines took on the name of the lead plaintiff, Barbara Handschu, in a 1971 lawsuit that challenged surveillance of war protesters in the 1960s and '70s. The 1980s consent decree established guidelines to be followed by police. Those guidelines were relaxed after 9/11 to help police fight terrorism.

Handschu, now 73, spoke in favor of the proposed changes on Tuesday and appeared in court again Wednesday.