Statement on NYPD Inspector General's report on NYPD surveillance
Council Members Brad Lander, Jumaane D. Williams and Vanessa L. Gibson praise NYPD Inspector General's report on NYPD surveillance, urge NYPD to quickly implement recommendations to better protect constitutional rights of all New Yorkers:
"We are pleased with the NYPD Inspector General’s report on surveillance activity by the NYPD, the concrete recommendations for reform that it provides, and the critical independent oversight that it affirms.
When the City Council created the Office of the NYPD Inspector General in 2013, this was one of our primary reasons for doing so. Surveillance and undercover policing are necessary for public safety in modern society, and especially in New York City, which has been a target for terrorist attacks. But in a democracy committed to civil rights, free speech, free exercise of religion, and privacy, surveillance must be applied based on evidence and not prejudice, constrained by rules, and guided by independent oversight.
Prior to the establishment of the IG's office, NYPD surveillance was overseen solely by NYPD officials. This was especially troubling in light of reports by the Associated Press that the NYPD had engaged in surveillance of Muslim student organizations, mosques, and other institutions without sufficient basis or constraints. So we are encouraged that NYPD IG Philip Eure and NYC Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters have established a protocol for independent oversight (with appropriate confidentiality), obtained the necessary files, completed their first audit of NYPD surveillance activity and committed to a follow up report. Along with the future, mayorally-appointed civilian role on the Handschu Committee, which the de Blasio Administration agreed to establish as part of the proposed settlement in the Raza & Handschu lawsuits in January, NYC will significantly improve oversight of NYPD surveillance.
We hope that the NYPD will move quickly to implement the IG's recommendations for reforms. It is essential that when undercover officers or confidential informants are used, their role is proscribed in writing, something that did not happen in a large number of the cases investigated, which may have led to 'mission creep' and investigations continuing longer and reaching farther than necessary. Similarly, investigations must be re-authorized in a timely fashion. When a majority of cases continue past their end-date without timely re-authorization, it suggests that investigations are presumed to be open-ended, rather than bounded carefully by the goal of preventing crime. As the report clearly states, the NYPD’s failures to renew approvals for investigations cannot simply be dismissed as administrative errors. The guidelines strictly limit the time and scope of investigations to ensure that New Yorkers’ constitutional rights are protected. Adherence to these rules is critical and would not hinder the City’s anti-terrorism efforts in any way.
We believe that this is an important moment for a public conversation about the standard that the NYPD should be using to open surveillance cases. Especially considering that 95 percent of investigations are of Muslims and those associated with Islam, it is critical that close attention is paid to the line between public safety and civil rights. At present, the standard for opening a Handschu investigation into political or religious activity requires only a reasonable indication of illegal activity. The standard will be strengthened by the proposed settlement of Raza and Handschu, clarifying that the information must be "articulable and factual," and that undercover officers and confidential information can only be placed when the same information cannot be gathered in a timely fashion by less obtrusive means. With the expected settlement of the lawsuits, and the IG's first report in hand, New Yorkers should have a public policy conversation about the appropriate standards for surveillance.
This is also an important moment to reflect on the NYPD Inspector General's office itself. Since its creation (over Mayor Bloomberg's veto, and much derision in the press), the NYPD IG has consistently brought data-driven transparency to the NYPD’s methods and policies. We thank Mayor de Blasio for appointing an independent IG, and we thank Inspector General Eure and DOI Commissioner Mark Peters for their willingness to take on challenging investigations, follow the facts, and make thoughtful and serious recommendations. With this report -- building on strong work around broken-windows policing and use-of-force -- the IG has furthered its critical role in the ongoing work to insure effective and just policing, to improve police-community relations, and to provide the oversight of law enforcement activity that a vital democracy requires."