A federal court today ruled that the NYPD must turn over records of its videotaping practices in a case that asks if police in New York City are routinely photographing individuals engaged in lawful political protest. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.
The decision is the latest round of the decades-old federal case Handschu v. Special Services Division, which has resulted in a series of court orders regulating police surveillance of political demonstrations and activities.
Through the process of discovery, the production of these documents will answer the question of whether the NYPD is systemically violating the Handschu guidelines by routinely videotaping political demonstrations even in the absence of any reason to believe that criminal activity had occurred or was about to occur.
“Individuals should have the right to engage in political protest without fear that their image will appear in a police videotape or their photo will end up in a dossier at NYPD headquarters,” said Arthur Eisenberg, legal director of the NYCLU. “This case is designed to secure that right.”
Jethro M. Eisenstein, one of the plaintiff's counsel, further observed: “The decision has broad significance because Judge Haight has confirmed that the lawyers for the plaintiff class may challenge NYPD policies that disregard the Handschu guidelines governing police surveillance of political activity, and that the guidelines are enforceable by the court.”
In addition to Eisenberg and Eisenstein, the plaintiffs are being represented by Paul G. Chevigny of NYU Law School, Martin R. Stolar and Franklin Siegel.