Judge to OK deal over police surveillance if changes made

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Posted: Oct 31, 2016 7:07 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A deal with the city to settle lawsuits accusing its police department of violating basic rights in Muslim communities after Sept. 11, 2001, can be approved with some changes, a judge said as he criticized the department for routinely disregarding guidelines instituted decades ago to settle a 45-year-old lawsuit.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr., signed on Friday in New Haven, Connecticut, and put in the public record on Monday, called for changes to language in the deal describing the authority and responsibility of an attorney who would be chosen to sit on a committee of police officials that discusses the status of investigations pertaining to political activities carried out by the department's intelligence bureau.

"The proposed role and powers of the civilian representative do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city," the judge wrote.

The judge recommended strengthening the independence and authority of the civilian representative by requiring the representative to report to the court quarterly and allowing him or her to "at any time communicate to the court comments or concerns arising out of his or her functioning in that position." The judge said the reports would be shared with lawyers for the city and plaintiffs in the lawsuits.

He also recommended that it be required that the mayor seek court approval before abolishing the position of the civilian representative after five years.

In his written decision, he cited a Department of Investigation inspector general's report concluding the New York Police Department eventually violated the so-called Handschu Guidelines in more than half the cases in which it opened investigations requiring compliance with them.

"Those failures suggest a systemic inclination on the part of the Intelligence Bureau to disregard the Guidelines' mandates," the judge wrote.

He said the tendency of the NYPD to repeatedly use generic, boilerplate text to seek permission to use an undercover officer or confidential informant created circumstances "more consistent with an NYPD accustomed to disregarding the Handschu Guidelines once an investigation or its continuance is authorized, rather than with a department dedicated to compliance with the Guidelines governing how the investigation is to be conducted."

The Handschu Guidelines took 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 Sept. 11 to help police fight terrorism.

A city law office spokesman referred a request for comment to the police department, which did not immediately respond.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the changes recommended by the judge, saying the NYPD had earlier refused to accept similar recommendations though it hoped the judge's ruling changes minds.

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This story has been corrected to show the ruling was made public Monday, not Tuesday.