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NYPD settles 2 lawsuits regarding surveillance of Muslims after 9/11

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Stacey Sager reports from Queens on the settlement of cases that accused the NYPD of religious profiling and spying on Muslims. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)

The NYPD has settled its two ongoing lawsuits over surveillance of Muslims following the September 11th terror attacks.

As part of the settlement, the NYPD has agreed to a civilian lawyer, appointed by the mayor, be placed inside Police Headquarters to monitor investigations. The city admits no wrongdoing, and no damages will be paid.

The settlement was reached in two lawsuits, Raza v. City of New York and Handschu v. Special Services Division.

"This is the latest step in the continuing efforts to build and maintain trust within the city's Muslim community and with all New Yorkers," police Commissioner William Bratton said. "The Handschu Consent Decree has long represented a clear set of rules for conducting investigations into certain unlawful activity. Incorporating existing NYPD practices into the Handschu Guidelines makes it easier to maintain best practices in intelligence gathering and investigations."

Raza was brought in June 2013 by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) project of Main Street Legal Services at CUNY School of Law, and the law firm Morrison and 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 Muslims.

The suit charged that the NYPD violated the U.S. and New York State Constitutions by singling out and stigmatizing entire communities of New Yorkers based on their religion, and 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 Muslims violated a long-standing consent decree in that case, which was a class action to protect New Yorkers' lawful political and religious activities from unwarranted NYPD surveillance.

"We are committed to strengthening the relationship between our administration and communities of faith so that residents of every background feel respected and protected," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "New York City's Muslim residents are strong partners in the fight against terrorism, and this settlement represents another important step toward building our relationship with the Muslim community."

The agreement is subject to court approval in both the Raza and Handschu cases and is the result of negotiations undertaken for over a year, and it includes modification of the guidelines along two principal lines: incorporating new safeguards and installing a civilian representative within the NYPD to reinforce all safeguards.

The settlement and reforms include these changes:

--Prohibiting investigations in which race, religion or ethnicity is a substantial or motivating factor.

--Requiring articulable and factual information regarding possible unlawful activity before the NYPD can launch a preliminary investigation into political or religious activity.

--Requiring the NYPD to account for the potential effect of investigative techniques on constitutionally-protected activities such as religious worship and political meetings.

--Limiting the NYPD's use of undercovers and confidential informants to situations in which the information sought cannot reasonably be obtained in a timely and effective way by less intrusive means.

--Putting an end to open-ended investigations by imposing presumptive time limits and requiring reviews of ongoing investigations every six months.

--Installing a civilian representative within the NYPD with the power and obligation to ensure all safeguards are followed and to serve as a check on investigations directed at political and religious activities. The civilian representative must record and report any violations to the police commissioner, who must investigate violations and report back to the civilian representative. If violations are systematic, the civilian representative must report them directly to the judge in the Handschu case.

--Removing from the NYPD website the discredited and unscientific Radicalization in the West report, which justified discriminatory surveillance, and affirming that the report is not and will not be relied upon to open or prolong NYPD investigations.
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