NEW YORK — An agreement that settles lawsuits accusing the New York Police Department of violating basic rights in Muslim communities after Sept. 11, 2001, has been revised to build in more oversight that acts as a check against surveillance abuses.
The revisions filed Monday expand the responsibilities of a civilian representative acting as a check against surveillance abuses by the police department. The representative would be a member of the police department with access to police records, in contrast to the city's Inspector General for the NYPD, which is an independent agency with less internal departmental access.
The revisions expand the scope of the representative to ensure compliance with the rules that govern surveillance of political and religious activity. The representative would report to the court any violation concerns, and the mayor would have to get approval from the court to eliminate the position.
U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. approved a settlement in October but requested the changes be made and criticized the police department for routinely disregarding the Handschu Guidelines. He must also sign off on the revisions before the settlement is final.
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. Those guidelines were relaxed after Sept. 11 to help police fight terrorism.
The agreement covers two cases, the Handschu case and another case filed in 2013 on behalf of mosques, community leaders and other groups who said they were wrongly the target of NYPD surveillance.
Hina Shamsi, National Security Project director with the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the 2013 suit with the New York Civil Liberties Union, praised the decision.
"As religious bigotry rises to a fever pitch nationwide, this settlement sends the message that Muslims and all New Yorkers will have even stronger protections from unconstitutional religious profiling and surveillance. Federal officials and local police elsewhere should take heed that courageous people like our clients and their supporters will always stand up for constitutional rights and freedoms."
A spokesman for the city said New York is committed to making the relationship between communities and the police stronger.
"New York City's Muslim residents are strong partners in the fight against terrorism, and this settlement represents another important step toward strengthening our relationship with the Muslim community," Austin Finan said. "Our city's law enforcement and counterterrorism forces are the best in the world, and the NYPD will continue working tirelessly to keep our city safe by embracing our communities, not isolating them."
Colleen Long, The Associated Press