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Limits on NYPD investigations

Judge restores restrictions on examining political activity

August 8, 2003

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.

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.

The judge reinstated limits on how an investigation can be initiated, despite assertions by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that the debriefing forms have been discontinued. Haight wrote that he had regarded his lifting of department restrictions "as striking a proper balance between the legitimate demands of public security and individual freedoms.

"Given the NYPD intelligence-gathering techniques being employed at the same time," he continued, "I no longer hold that confidence."

Haight wrote that he had strengthened what are known as the Handschu guidelines - so named for Barbara Handschu, the lead plaintiff in a case involving 1960s radicals under surveillance by the department - "because of a two-level display of operational ignorance on the part of the NYPD's highest officials."

Kelly has said that both he and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen had been unaware of the debriefing form. In a separate affidavit, Insp. John Cutter, the commanding officer of the Intelligence Division, said that Cohen "was aware of the fact that arrestees would be asked questions similar to those on the debriefing form."

Said Haight: "I think it clear that in such a sensitive area the two commissioners should have known."

At a news conference yesterday, 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.

City Corporation Counsel Special Assistant Gail Donoghue said in a statement: "The city feels that the decision has not adversely impacted on the NYPD's ability to remain proactive in the investigation and prevention of terrorism."

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.