Tuesday, May 27, 2014
NYPD UNDERCOVER POLICE MONITOR LIBERALS
Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.
The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.
The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.
The complaint being filed on Tuesday follows the release of documents by The Associated Press this spring revealing that undercover police officers had attended meetings of liberal political organizations and kept intelligence files on activists.
Several of the groups mentioned, including Friends of Brad Will, worked together to draft the complaint.
One of the authors is Robert Jereski, 46, a coordinator of the group, which is dedicated to bringing accountability to those responsible for the murder of Brad Will, a journalist who was killed in 2006 while working in Mexico. The group comprises a network of activists promoting “enhanced public awareness about the human rights abuses linked to the ‘war on drugs,’ ” according to its website.
Mr. Jereski said that many group members had suspected that they were being watched by the police for years, but had been unable to get information from the government.
Their suspicions were confirmed when published internal police documents showed that an undercover officer had infiltrated a Friends of Brad Will meeting in New Orleans in 2008 and had sent a report noting plans for future actions by the group.
Mr. Jereski said that the revelations and the fact that there is a new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who himself had a history as an activist, made this the moment to push for change.
“Public sentiment has shifted dramatically away from government surveillance” over the last year, he said.
The complaint calls for a full investigation into the intelligence division, a branch within the department that runs surveillance operations.
The division has been at the center of many of the department’s most controversial surveillance programs; critics have said it operated with little oversight.
The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on the complaint.
In response to criticism of the department’s spying on Muslim communities, the police announced in April that it had disbanded its demographics unit, which had directed many of the inquiries.
After The New York Times reported on the department’s infiltration of political groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan, the police defended their efforts as a way to maintain order.
“There was no political surveillance,” David Cohen, the head of the intelligence unit, testified in a lawsuit about the arrest and detention of protesters during the convention. “This was a program designed to determine in advance the likelihood of unlawful activity or acts of violence.”
Activists are calling on the inspector general, who has subpoena power, to audit the surveillance programs and give a public accounting of all the “dissenters, political advocates, environmentalists and human right activists” who have been singled out over the past two decades.
“Included in the disclosure sought here is a full description of the training which officers undergo before being tasked with targeting political activists,” according to a draft of the complaint provided to The Times.
The complaint also calls for the department to reveal what sort of information is shared among law enforcement agencies, what guidelines have been put in place to ensure that there is no abuse of police power, and what the punishments are for those who overstep their authority.
“We need tangible, concrete proposals of how we can ensure the N.Y.P.D. does not target an entire group, set of groups, or political activists in general based on their participation in political advocacy,” the complaint says.