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Judge Says NYPD 'Accustomed To Disregarding' Court Orders, Sends Surveillance Settlement Back For Fixes


A settlement reached this earlier this year over the NYPD’s pervasive (and useless) surveillance of Muslims is being sent back for retooling. Normally when this sort of thing happens, it’s because the the NYPD is convinced any reform efforts put in place are too restrictive and will result in the city being plunged into the nightmarish dystopian hell it’s often been portrayed as in popular culture.

Fortunately, this isn’t one of those times. The judge presiding over the settlement agreement actually feels the proposed reforms (and there are a lot of them) don’t go far enough.

[Judge] Charles S. Haight Jr., in an opinion published on Monday, said the settlement did not go far enough for an agency that had become “accustomed to disregarding” court orders.

“The proposed role and powers of the civilian representative,” Judge Haight wrote, “do not furnish sufficient protection from potential violations of the constitutional rights of those law-abiding Muslims and believers in Islam who live, move and have their being in this city.”

Playing into the judge’s decision is a recent NYPD Inspector General’s report — one that found the department routinely violated another agreement it had in place, one that ALSO resulted from pervasive, unconstitutional surveillance.

The Handschu Agreement — put in place in 1985 and modified in 2002 — was supposed to stop the NYPD from engaging in surveillance of First Amendment-protected activity. Of course, it ignored this agreement and placed entire mosques under surveillance with its “Demographics Unit” and used copy-pasted boilerplate to excuse its actions.

So, when Judge Haight says the NYPD is “accustomed to disregarding” court orders, he not making stuff up. More recent agreements — like the changes made to stop-and-frisk as the result of court decision — have also been ignored, with NYPD brass making very minimal effort to ensure officers were following the new rules meant to make the stops more Constitutional.

Perhaps Judge Haight is belatedly trying to make amends. Haight is the reason the NYPD’s rights-violating “Demographics Unit” even existed. In the wake of the 2001 attacks, the NYPD decided to put a couple of former CIA officers in charge of its counterterrorism activities, and it was Judge Haight who approved the post-9/11 rewrite of the Handschu Agreement, allowing the NYPD to engage in surveillance predicated on little else other than citizens’ religious affiliations.

Fifteen years of watching the NYPD shrug off oversight, settlement agreements, and consent decrees has finally gotten to Judge Haight, apparently. While the NYPD somehow portrays the August Inspector General’s report as exonerating, Haight calls it something else.

Judge Haight said it was evidence of “near-systemic failure.” He chastised the department for highlighting favorable aspects of the report but not addressing repeated problems.

There’s not much of a sample size to pull from, but it’s heartening to see that some judges are tiring of the self-serving BS served up by law enforcement agencies. Deference is usually extended because cops are the “good guys.” The deference that has historically been extended is starting to be rolled back. Transparency and accountability — forced on agencies by activists and citizens armed with recording devices — has made it clear many officers and agencies haven’t earned the respect that’s been shown to them. Haight’s refusal to be swayed by the same department that leveraged terrorism fears to undercut the civil rights New York’s residents is a positive step in the right direction, if perhaps a bit late in arriving.

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