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Mayor Adams to Continue Civilian Oversight of Discriminatory NYPD Surveillance

NEW YORK CITY — Following Mayor Eric Adams’ appointment of Muhammad Faridi as the next Civilian Representative, NYCLU, ACLU, and class counsel in the Handschu v. Special Services Division case praised his decision to continue this important check on potentially abusive surveillance and investigative NYPD practices that had been employed to target disfavored political and religious groups.

Created by a 2017 revised settlement in Handschu v. Special Services Division & Raza v. City of New York, the Civilian Representative brings an “outsider’s” perspective to the deliberations of the NYPD Intelligence Division as it considers investigations directed at political and religious activities. Under the terms of the 2017 agreement, the Mayor had the authority, after five years, to seek the elimination of the position — putting this important oversight at risk. He properly chose not to do that.

  • The 1971 case Handschu v. Special Services Division targeted the abusive surveillance techniques employed by the NYPD Intelligence Division — including the misuse of informants, the infiltration of political groups, and the leaking of information from police dossiers in ways that injured individual reputations and employment opportunities. A settlement was reached in 1985 that established appropriate oversight Guidelines but they were weakened in the aftermath of 9/11.
  • In 2011, a series of news articles described widespread and abusive surveillance directed at Muslim communities. In response, lawyers representing the plaintiff class in the Handschu case initiated proceedings to explore whether the Guidelines had been violated and, if so, to enforce the settlement. In addition, the ACLU, the NYCLU, and the CLEAR project at CUNY Law School filed Raza v. City of New York, challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD’s discriminatory and unjustified religious profiling. Many of the original Handschu rules and Guidelines were reestablished as a result of the case’s 2017 settlement. But a significant new element, in the settlement, involved the creation of the position of Civilian Representative. Former federal Judge Stephen Robinson was appointed as the first independent Civilian Representative to the NYPD Handschu Committee.

“A strong civilian representative to protect against unconstitutional religious profiling and surveillance of New Yorkers was critically important to our clients in agreeing to settle their case,” said Hina Shamsi, ACLU National Security Project director and counsel to the plaintiffs in Raza v. City of New York. “When brave and tenacious people stand up for their rights as our clients did, they can make long-lasting change that benefits all of us. We look to the new civilian representative to enforce the hard-fought gains of our clients and their supporters.”

“We are deeply grateful to Hon. Stephen Robinson for his dedicated service as the first Civilian Representative on the Handschu Committee,” said Jethro Eisenstein, class counsel in the Handschu case. “Judge Robinson showed that the Civilian Representative, by bringing an outside voice to the deliberations of the NYPD, encourages critical thinking and mindfulness of the rights at stake. We welcome the appointment of Muhammad Faridi as the new Civilian Representative. We are confident that he will bring to bear the same dedication and vigilance.”

“Judge Robinson’s path-breaking tenure demonstrated that, through vigilant attention, it is possible to balance liberty and security,” said Arthur Eisenberg, Executive Counsel to the NYCLU. “Mayor Adams’ retention of both the Handschu Committee and the Civilian Representative is a recognition of the need for continued vigilance — New Yorkers should not be targeted for surveillance because of their racial, ethnic, or religious identity or their lawful political activity. We commend Adams for continuing this important safeguard as we welcome the appointment of Muhammad Faridi as the new Civilian Representative.”

Click HERE for a Class Counsel Statement (contact: Jethro Eisenstein).
Click HERE for more background on Handschu v. Special Services Division
Click HERE for more background on Raza v. City of New York

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