The New York Police Department (NYPD) has finally reached a settlement over its controversial post-9/11 Muslim surveillance programme. The deal was announced on 7 January by the NYPD and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which will also leave the department under the inspection of an independent observer chosen by City Hall.
"This settlement is a win for all New Yorkers," NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said. "It will curtail practices that wrongly stigmatise individuals simply on the basis of their religion, race or ethnicity."
Under the settlement, Mayor Bill de Blasio will name a civilian lawyer from outside the NYPD for a five-year term to make sure the department follows the established guidelines. NYPD Deputy Commissioner of the Legal Bureau, Larry Bryne said: "If that person has any concerns...they can and must go to the police commissioner and bring [their] concerns to his attention." The observer will also be able to reach the mayor and a federal judge for any concerns.
Bryne told reporters that the attorney will attend NYPD internal meetings to help ensure the department is meeting the set guidelines. The settlement also sets time limits for ending investigations that fail to find threats—18 months for preliminary investigations, three years for full investigations and five years for terror conspiracy cases.
The deal will resolve twin lawsuits brought in New York against the NYPD over its controversial programme. Settlement talks began in the summer of 2014, shortly after De Blasio assumed office. It still needs to receive the court approval of the judges overseeing the lawsuits resolved by the deal.
According to ABC News, Mayor de Blasio released a statement following the agreement announcement. "We are committed to strengthening the relationship between our administration and communities of faith so that residents of every background feel respected and protected," the mayor said.
The first of the lawsuits, filed by the NYCLU at a Brooklyn Federal Court in June 2013, claimed that the surveillance programme targeted people solely based on their religious beliefs. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Imam Hamid Hassan Raza, said that the Muslim community only wanted to ensure its constitutional protections. The lawsuit named former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly as defendants.
The second lawsuit claimed that the programme violated a long-standing consent decree, the Daily News reported. The guidelines, which date to 1985, protect New Yorkers from wrongful police attention based on their lawful religious and political activities.
The NYPD admitted no liability or violation of law in the settlement. According to the Daily News, no one received any payment of monetary damages under the agreement. John Miller, the NYPD counterterrorism chief, said the settlement would also not change any current departmental policy. "New York will be as safe on Friday as it was on Thursday because we haven't lost any of our powers to launch, renew or maintain investigations," he said.