The New York City Police Department is revising intelligence-gathering policies and training as part of a settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing the department of spying on Muslims in New Jersey in the years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The plaintiffs and officials with the nation's largest police department separately announced the settlement Thursday in one of three lawsuits prompted by a 2011 Associated Press investigation exposing the New York police's secret monitoring and infiltration of mosques, bookstores, schools and Muslim associations.
"The message to police departments from coast to coast is loud and clear: You cannot treat someone as a suspect based on their faith," said Farhana Khera, executive director of legal advocacy organization Muslim Advocates.
The New York City Police Department agreed to pay $75,000 in damages without admitting any wrongdoing and said it would develop new policies and training materials for its Intelligence Bureau with input from the plaintiffs and other Muslim community leaders.
"The resolution of this case affirms and enhances the NYPD's commitment to conducting effective investigations to prevent crime and terrorism," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said in a statement.
John Miller, deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said the settlement "provides for more transparency around the policies and practices of the Intelligence Bureau while not hampering our ability to conduct authorized investigations."
Federal courts have approved two other settlements of lawsuits filed on behalf of Muslim religious and community leaders who alleged their civil rights were violated when they were unfairly targeted for New York police surveillance. The latest case, Hassan v. City of New York, was filed in 2012.
"A police department not acknowledging wrongdoing is akin to a congressman's 'no comment,' " Farhaj Hassan, the lead plaintiff and a sergeant in the US Army Reserves, told reporters Thursday.
"You know they did it. They're just not going to admit it. ... It was a giant waste of taxpayer dollars. And it was sloppy and it was embarrassing that the New York City Police Department did this. We expect more from cops."
Settlement terms include an agreement by the police department not to engage in "suspicionless" surveillance on the basis of religion or ethnicity, a public meeting between department brass and the plaintiffs, and input by plaintiffs on a policy guide governing Intelligence Bureau activity.
"Today it's Muslim communities around the country that are targeted and hated," Hassan said. "Tomorrow, who's next? No one likes to take on the cops."
Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the settlement sends an important message at a time when the Trump administration's "Muslim ban" will come before the US Supreme Court and "full-throated racism and xenophobia is part of White House personnel and policy."
"We hope that the decision sends a strong signal that profiling of the sort that consumes this White House in unconstitutional and there are communities who will mobilize and exert their growing power to challenge those activities and prevail," Azmy said.