New York Police Department will appoint an independent monitor to review police investigations as part of reforms designed to protect Muslims from discriminatory and unjustified surveillance, officials said.
The announcement on Thursday of a deal following months of negotiations formally ended litigation over accusations that the nation's largest police department cast a shadow over Muslim communities with a covert campaign of religious profiling and illegal spying.
"We are committed to strengthening the relationship between our administration and communities of faith so that residents of every background feel respected and protected," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The civil rights lawyers said the deal requires the NYPD to modify guidelines to prohibit investigations based on race, religion or ethnicity. It also installs an independent civilian representative on a special committee that reviews terrorism and other confidential investigations.
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Civil liberty campaigners welcomed the changes, drawn up to settle two lawsuits, saying the move by the country's largest police force sent a powerful message at a time of rising anti-Islamic sentiment.
The terms of the settlement, which were reached after more than a year of negotiations, must be approved by a federal judge.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which helped bring one of the suits, welcomed what it called a "watershed settlement".
'Much needed constraints'
Hina Shamsi, the ACLU's national security project director, said that it introduced "much needed constraints on law enforcement's discriminatory and unjustified surveillance of Muslims".
"At a time of rampant anti-Muslim hysteria and prejudice nationwide, this agreement with the country’s largest police force sends a forceful message that bias-based policing is unlawful, harmful, and unnecessary," she added.
The independent monitor would have the power to ensure all safeguards are followed and serve as a check on investigations directed at political and religious activities, ACLU said.
They must report any violations to the police commissioner, who must investigate and report back, it added.
The reforms will also limit police use of undercover and confidential informants, and end open-ended investigations by imposing time limits and require status reviews every six months, ACLU said.
The police said that the proposed settlement would not weaken its ability to investigate and prevent "terror" activity.
John Miller, the deputy police commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, will retain "sole authority" over all intelligence investigations and decisions, the police department said.
The mayor will appoint the independent monitor in consultation with the police commissioner.