- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A settlement reached between New York City and the local Muslim community has been rejected by a federal judge who says more safeguards are necessary to keep police from conducting surveillance based solely on religious beliefs.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in June 2013 after news reports and internal agency documents indicated that police illegally monitored innocent New Yorkers by staking out mosques, bookstores and other locations often frequented by Muslims in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Under a proposed settlement reached in January, Mayor Michael de Blasio agreed to appoint a civilian lawyer to oversee the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism activities in an effort to ensure law enforcement stops infringing on residents’ First Amendment-protected rights. In a newly released court ruling, however, the federal judge in charge of approving the agreement ordered the city to go back to the drawing board before he signs off on the settlement.

“The proposed role and powers of the civilian representative do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city,” U.S. District Court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. wrote in a Friday ruling put in the public record Monday.

As proposed, the settlement would update a decades-old set of rules known as the Handschu guidelines that regulates how the NYPD goes about conducting investigations. As noted by Judge Haight, however, an NYPD inspector general’s report released in August concluded that its officers violated those guidelines in more than half of the cases where they’re applied.

“Those failures suggest a systemic inclination on the part of the Intelligence Bureau to disregard the Guidelines’ mandates,” the judge wrote.

Unsatisfied with the proposed settlement, Judge Haight has asked the city to make revisions that would require the civilian representative to report to the court to “at any time communicate to the court comments or concerns arising out of his or her functioning in that position.” Additionally, he suggested a new provision be added that would require the mayor of New York to seek court approval before attempting to abolish the civilian position in the future.

“The court’s ruling highlights safeguards we sought to secure but the NYPD refused to accept, and we hope it convinces the NYPD to establish additional protections against unwarranted surveillance,” the ACLU said in response to the judge’s order. “For the sake of New York Muslims and all New Yorkers, we urge that reforms are implemented as soon as possible.”

“We are disappointed that the settlement was not approved as the parties originally proposed,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city law office, said in a statement.

The Handschu guidelines were first imposed in 1985 in response to a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of New Yorkers who had been subject to surveillance based on their constitutionally protected political and religious activity. Fifteen months following Sept. 11, Judge Haight signed a court order modifying those guidelines “to allow greater investigation freedom” in the NYPD’s “fight against terrorism,” the city said at the time.

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