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Civilian Watchdog Will Soon Oversee NYPD Surveillance Of Muslims

NYPD brass, however, will retain ultimate decision-making power on all investigations.

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The New York Police Department will appoint a civilian representative to oversee law enforcement investigations involving political or religious activity as part of a civil rights settlement announced on Thursday.

The settlement brings an end to Raza v. City of New York, a federal lawsuit filed in 2013 by a number of civil rights organizations on behalf of several Muslim New Yorkers who said they were subjected to discriminatory surveillance by the NYPD.

The settlement does not include an admission of guilt or impropriety on the part of the city. A federal court has to approve the settlement before it goes into effect.

The lawsuit came on the heels of a number of investigative reports by the Associated Press that showed the NYPD had created detailed maps of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, Muslim student associations, and social venues frequented by Muslims in New York and the surrounding states.

The vast majority of those surveilled, including the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, were not engaged in demonstrable criminal activity.

“For the first time, this watershed settlement puts much needed constraints on law enforcement’s discriminatory and unjustified surveillance of Muslims," Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "At a time of rampant anti-Muslim hysteria and prejudice nationwide, this agreement with the country’s largest police force sends a forceful message that bias-based policing is unlawful, harmful, and unnecessary."

Besides appointing a civilian attorney to oversee the NYPD's investigations into political and religious groups, the settlement will limit the department's ability to use undercover agents and confidential informants in counterterrorism investigations. The agreement will also impose time limits on investigations, which will have to be reviewed every six months.

The settlement, however, allows the NYPD's brass to have final decision-making power on all counterterrorism investigations. The civilian attorney who will oversee sensitive investigations will report his concerns to the police commissioner and will be bound by a confidentiality agreement.

“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,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement. “The modifications also bring the guidelines closer in line with FBI practices, which is helpful in working collaboratively with our federal partners."

You can read the specific modifications to NYPD policies here.



Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at nicolas.mora@buzzfeed.com.

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