NEW YORK (AP) – A coalition of politicians and civil rights activists criticized the New York Police Department on Wednesday for monitoring political groups that they say pose no threat to New Yorkers.
At a news conference Wednesday outside NYPD headquarters, the group called for stronger oversight of the department’s intelligence-gathering efforts.
“We need some checks on the police department,” said City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who has called for the federal government to monitor the department.
Fahd Ahmed of Desis Rising Up & Moving, which organized the news conference, accused Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly of overstepping his authority with surveillance tactics that critics claim violate the Constitution.
“You are not the head of the FBI. You are not the head of the CIA,” Ahmed said of Kelly. “You are accountable to the people of New York.”
An NYPD spokeswoman declined comment on Wednesday.
The NYPD’s Intelligence Division has been the subject of a series of Associated Press articles that illustrated how the department monitored Muslim neighborhoods, catalogued people who prayed at mosques and eavesdropped on sermons around the city and beyond. Documents obtained by the AP show that the unit also kept close watch on political groups with no links to criminal activity.
One document reveals that in 2008, an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans to attend the People’s Summit, a gathering of liberal groups organized around their shared opposition to U.S. economic policy and the effect of trade agreements between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. When the undercover effort was summarized for supervisors, it identified groups opposed to U.S. immigration policy, labor laws and racial profiling.
The NYPD has defended its efforts, saying that terrorism and other threats mean officers cannot wait to open an investigation until a crime is committed. Under rules governing NYPD investigations, officers are allowed to go anywhere the public can go and can prepare reports for “operational planning.”
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