NEW YORK, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The New York Police Department has settled a pair of lawsuits over a controversial police surveillance program of Muslims that was started after the Sept. 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
As part of the settlement, an independent civilian attorney will oversee the police department's work to make sure it sticks to established guidelines, officials announced.
Thursday's agreement ends two different lawsuits brought against the NYPD for its surveillance on Muslim neighborhoods over the last decade. It restores at least some of the oversight that was removed when local officials demanded greater flexibility and ease in investigations after Sept. 11th.
"This settlement is a win for all New Yorkers," said New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg. "It will curtail practices that wrongly stigmatize individuals simply on the basis of their religion, race or ethnicity."
Under the surveillance program, police built secret files on local Muslim communities by monitoring mosques, recording sermons, collecting license plate numbers of members, and gathering the community members' views on politics.
The new agreement allows the mayor to name an independent attorney to a five-year term, where the attorney can attend internal police meetings and if, at any point the person has any concerns, "they can and must go to the police commissioner and bring (their) concerns to his attention," said police Deputy Commissioner of the Legal Bureau Larry Byrne. The person would also have access to a federal judge.
The other side of the deal doesn't stop any tactics the police are currently using and city also doesn't have to admit any wrongdoing. However, some civil rights experts argue that some of those tactics, had anyone outside the police department been reviewing the files, would have been stopped for violating the Constitution.
The settlement ends about a year-and-a-half of negotiations. The judge overseeing both lawsuits must still approve the deal.
Both lawsuits challenged the police department's intelligence unit -- a squad dating back to the early 1900s created to watch Italian anarchists, which has since focused on communists, anti-Vietnam War activists, civil rights and student groups -- with one suit alleging the surveillance program targeted people entirely because of their religious beliefs. The second suit charged the program violated a 1985 ruling that New Yorkers could not receive police attention due to their legal political and religious activities.