The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the refusal of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to disclose public records concerning a program that allows NYPD officers to regularly patrol privately owned apartment buildings.

Landlords can enroll their buildings in the District Attorney’s Trespass Affidavit Program, which permits police officers to patrol the premises. The NYCLU has received numerous reports that police officers make unconstitutional, suspicionless stops – and even trespassing arrests – of TAP building residents and their invited guests.

“There is no good reason to withhold this information from the public,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “People have raised serious concerns that the NYPD is using this program to bring its unlawful stop-and-frisk practices into apartment buildings – literally into people’s homes. These concerns can only be resolved through transparency, not stonewalling.”

In the course of investigating residents’ complaints, the NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the District Attorney seeking TAP policies, a roster of buildings enrolled in the program and information about trespass arrests during 2009 and 2010.

The District Attorney refused to disclose the buildings roster, claiming that disclosing it would be an invasion of the landlords’ privacy.

The NYCLU’s lawsuit, filed Jan. 20 in State Supreme Court for New York County, maintains that the District Attorney’s privacy argument has no merit given that a building’s enrollment in TAP is not secret. In fact, the District Attorney requires all buildings enrolled in TAP to post signs publicly announcing their participation in the program.

“This is not about landlord privacy, it’s about transparency and accountability,” said NYCLU Senior Staff Attorney Alexis Karteron, lead counsel in the case. “TAP building residents and their guests are being unjustly stopped, interrogated and even arrested by the police. The public has every right to know the scope of this troubling program. If the District Attorney’s Office won’t turn over these records, we’re confident that the courts will require it to do so.”

TAP is a component of Operation Clean Halls, a citywide NYPD, a citywide NYPD program designed to combat illegal activity within residential apartment buildings.

In 2010, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a city agency that investigates complaints of police misconduct, reported a spike in complaints concerning officer misconduct in buildings enrolled in Operation Clean Halls. The NYCLU has received numerous reports of illicit police tactics being used in Operation Clean Halls buildings throughout the city, including locations enrolled in TAP.