Seth Wenig / AP

NYPD agrees to reforms in settlement over Muslim surveillance program

Muslim and civil liberties groups charged that NYPD's spying on Muslims after 9/11 was illegal and discriminatory

The New York Police Department (NYPD) agreed Thursday to a series of reforms, including the reinstatement of a civilian monitor to oversee its counterterrorism efforts, as part of a proposed settlement that follows a pair of federal lawsuits alleging that officers used discriminatory surveillance practices against Muslims.

The settlement marks a major achievement for the city’s Muslim groups and civil liberties organizations, which argued that the NYPD’s practice of targeting Muslims in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks was illegal and discriminatory.

"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 in a statement Thursday.

De Blasio, who criticized the NYPD’s use of surveillance during his mayoral campaign, ended the program shortly after taking office in April 2014.

The terms of the settlement are still subject to the approval of two federal judges, according to a press release by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), one of the organizations involved in bringing the lawsuits, which were filed in Brooklyn and Manhattan federal courts.

In addition to reinstating a civil monitor to oversee counterterrorism efforts, the reforms agreed to in the proposed settlement will prohibit “investigations in which race, religion or ethnicity is a substantial or motivating factor;" require “articulable and factual information regarding possible unlawful activity before the NYPD can launch a preliminary investigation into political or religious activity;" and oblige "the NYPD to account for the potential effect of investigative techniques on constitutionally-protected activities such as religious worship and political meetings."

The NYPD surveillance program, which included city police infiltration of Muslim student groups, informants in mosques and other tactics that spied on Muslims, became widely known after a series of articles by the Associated Press, which reported that police officers were conducting surveillance throughout the greater New York region in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The terms of Thursday’s proposed settlement do not require the city to admit any wrongdoing. The NYPD says that the reforms amount to current police policy.

The plaintiffs in the case, including New Jersey imams, business owners and students, sued New York in 2012, claiming the surveillance subjected them to discrimination, threatened their careers and caused them to stop attending religious services, among other effects.

Thursday's settlement was hailed as a victory for those who fought against what they said were unjustified measures that singled out and stigmatized entire communities based on their religion. 

“Despite the fear and stigma that unwarranted NYPD spying has fostered in Muslim communities, representatives of those communities and their allies organized and took a courageous stand to demand change, through this lawsuit and in many other ways. This settlement offers all New Yorkers a solid platform from which to pursue further reform," said Ramzi Kassem, a professor of law at CUNY and founding director of the advocacy group Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR). 

With wire services

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