Handschu guidelines restored - maybe

The New York Police Department has been slapped for its "operational ignorance" and its threat to constitutional rights.

Charging he had lost confidence in the NYPD's methods of investigating political activity, a federal judge yesterday restored limits on the department that he had lifted only five months ago.

[In February the judge had agreed to ease the rules restraining police surveillance and interrogation excesses out of concern about heightened threats to security. The original rules have come to be known as the Handschu agreement. Handschu was the first listed plaintiff in a 1971 lawsuit which succesfully charged that the Police Department's so-called Red Squad harassed political advocacy groups.]

Blasting the department at its highest levels, Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Haight reversed his March ruling in which he had accepted the Police Department's assertion that terrorism concerns justified an easing of the restrictions.

Haight said he changed his mind after the disclosure that on Feb. 15 the police had arrested 274 people protesting the war in Iraq and questioned them about their political beliefs, entering their responses on what the department called a "demonstration debriefing" form.

Remarkably, the NYPD seems to believe nothing has really changed in the guidelines they must observe.
At a news conference yesterday, [Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly said that Haight's ruling would "not change any modification made by the judge ... For me, the important thing is the modification ... continues to stand."

Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union said of Kelly's statement, "I don't know what the commissioner means since the judge clearly ordered that new restrictions will be added to the court order governing the department's surveillance."

The judge's ruling did not specify what restrictions would be imposed in initiating a probe.

Neither the Newsday story nor the NYTimes account leave us with any clear understanding of the impact of the judge's ruling yesterday.
Yesterday, Judge Haight did not impose new restrictions on the police in the wake of the interrogations, which first came to light after the New York Civil Liberties Union received complaints from protesters. Nor did the judge decide the issue of whether the interrogations violated the protesters' constitutional rights.

But he said he would formally incorporate the recently eased rules into a judicial decree, to make clear that lawyers could return to court and seek to hold the city in contempt if they believed that a violation of the rules also violated an individual's constitutional rights. [from the Times]

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Published on August 8, 2003 1:35 PM.

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