NYPD chief, council clash over Muslim surveillance

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NEW YORK (AP) ? New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly on Thursday challenged city council members who want to create an inspector general to regulate the department’s surveillance of Muslims, saying his department needs no additional oversight.

In sometimes heated exchanges with council members at a budget hearing, Kelly defended his department’s counterterrorism surveillance program as well as another crime-fighting policy, the stopping, questioning and frisking of people on the street.

“I think there’s plenty of oversight,” Kelly said. He cited New York’s five district attorneys, two U.S. attorneys, a committee that investigates police corruption, the department’s own internal affairs office and a 2003 court order that governs police surveillance.

“I don’t know what more you would want,” Kelly said.

Some council members say they are deeply concerned by a series of stories by The Associated Press detailing the extent of the surveillance program, which overwhelmingly targeted Muslim ethnic groups in its hunt for suspicious activity.

Undercover police officers eavesdropped in cafes and grocery stores, infiltrated Muslim student groups and monitored the Internet activity of people as far away as Buffalo, N.Y. They set up a command center in New Brunswick, N.J. without the knowledge of the FBI or local police. They monitored people who changed their names from Arab-sounding names to more Americanized ones, created detailed catalogs of Muslim-owned businesses and recorded the license plates of worshippers at a New Jersey mosque.

Some people whose names have appeared in the police reports are worried that such notes could damage their lives if the information were ever leaked or misused.

Legal changes since 9/11 have left the police department’s Intelligence Division with too little supervision, said Brad Lander, a Democratic council member from Brooklyn.

“We have many blind spots in our understanding of the NYPD,” Lander said Thursday.

A 1985 court settlement, known as the Handschu Guidelines, set strict time limits for investigations, imposed rules on the kinds of records police could keep and created a three-person body to oversee such investigations.

But after the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD persuaded a judge to give it more freedom. The resulting order, known as the Modified Handschu Guidelines, did away with the three-member body and most of the restrictions in 2003. Kelly said Thursday that his department “scrupulously” follows the new, more lax guidelines.

Lander and council member Jumaane Williams said they are working on a bill that would create a police inspector-general with broad subpoena powers to review surveillance operations. The council members said they were studying similar posts in other cities.

Thursday’s hearing sometimes grew tense, as Kelly sparred with council members over the surveillance program and the department’s “stop-and-frisk” policy.

“You don’t have any answers. You criticize but you don’t have any answers,” Kelly shot back at Williams.

Police made a record 684,330 street stops last year, and 87 percent of those targeted were either black or Hispanic. On Thursday, Kelly said the policy was saving the lives of minorities, since they are disproportionately victims of violent crime.