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New Report Underscores Need to Rein in NYPD Surveillance of American Muslims

The NYPD Inspector General today released a report that examined the NYPD’s compliance with the Handschu Guidelines — which protect New Yorkers’ lawful political and religious activities from unwarranted surveillance – while investigating a sample of cases closed between 2010 and 2015 that mostly involved American Muslims. The report found that the NYPD failed to adhere to important safeguards that protect people’s rights and the integrity of investigations. For example, in more than half the cases reviewed, both NYPD investigations and their use of informants and undercover officers continued after approval expired.

The report comes after a 2016 settlement agreement in two lawsuits, Raza v. City of New York and Handschu v. Special Services Division, which proposes to modify the Handschu Guidelines to incorporate new safeguards and establish a civilian representative to protect New Yorkers from unwarranted NYPD surveillance for political or religious activity. The settlement is subject to court approval.

The following comment is attributable to Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is co-counsel in both the Raza and Handschu cases.

“The inspector general’s report has provided yet more evidence that the NYPD’s surveillance of American Muslims was highly irregular, operated in a black box and violated even the weaker rules that existed before our proposed settlement. The report’s recognition of the need for ongoing oversight, and our settlement’s proposal for a civilian representative within the NYPD, will together ensure necessary transparency and enforcement of the rules reining in NYPD surveillance of political and religious activity.”

“We also reviewed NYPD records, and we stand by our allegations that there were often no valid reasons for the NYPD to open or extend investigations of American Muslims.”

“The proposed settlement in Raza and Handschu will go directly toward improving a number of failures highlighted in the report and preventing the abuses challenged in our lawsuits. The inspector general report’s additional record-keeping recommendations will also help to ensure the effectiveness of reforms.”

“We look forward to working alongside the inspector general in making the NYPD more effective at protecting public safety and the rights of all New Yorkers.”

Raza was brought in June 2013 by the NYCLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project of Main Street Legal Services at CUNY School of Law, and the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques and a charitable organization, alleging they were swept up in the NYPD’s dragnet surveillance of American Muslims. The case sought systemic reforms to prevent law enforcement abuses.

Separately, lawyers, including the NYCLU, in Handschu filed papers in 2013 arguing that the NYPD’s investigations of American Muslims violated a long-standing consent decree in that case, which was a class action to protect lawful political and religious activities from unwarranted NYPD surveillance.

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