In Response to NYCLU Demand, Police Stop Interrogating Protesters About Political Activity

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
April 10, 2003 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK — In response to a demand made by the New York Civil Liberties Union earlier this week, police officials have agreed to halt a recently implemented secret program of interrogating protesters about their political affiliations and prior demonstration activities, the NYCLU announced today.

“As a city and a nation, we are at a crossroads about civil liberties,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “The city’s initiation of these interrogations reveals how willing government is to abandon basic First Amendment values in these difficult times, while its reversal shows that New Yorkers can successfully defend their civil liberties.”

Under the program, which had been in effect at least since the large February 15 antiwar rally here, the NYPD had forced hundreds of protesters charged with minor offenses to surrender information about their political affiliations and prior protest activity. That information was being collected on a recently disclosed form entitled, “Criminal Intelligence Division/Demonstration Debriefing Form.”

In a letter sent on Tuesday to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the NYCLU informed the City that it had received many reports of protesters being taken to Police Headquarters after being charged with minor offenses (such as blocking a sidewalk) and then being interrogated about their political activities. The letter explained that the reports received by the NYCLU indicate that those arrested had not been advised of their right to counsel, that requests to see counsel were ignored or met with threats of prolonged detention, and that lawyers seeking access to those being interrogated were kept outside One Police Plaza. The NYCLU learned late yesterday that the NYPD would halt the interrogations.

“Compiling police dossiers about peaceful protest activity and lawful political associations is wrong and opens the door to serious police abuse,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU. “Though we are pleased that the Department has agreed to halt these interrogations, they should never have started in the first place and they raise troubling questions about the Police Department’s respect for lawful, political activity.”

The text of the NYCLU letter follows:

BY FACSIMILE AND FIRST CLASS MAIL

April 8, 2003

Raymond Kelly
Commissioner
New York City Police Department
One Police Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10038

Dear Commissioner Kelly:

We write to express our deep concern about an initiative by which the NYPD’s Intelligence Division may be collecting and compiling information about lawful and protected demonstration activity and political associations. If this initiative in fact is underway, we call upon you to halt it immediately and to destroy any records created as a result of it.

Following the arrests of a large number of demonstrators charged with minor offenses at the antiwar rally on February 15, 2003, the NYCLU received reports that many of those arrested had been held for hours at One Police Plaza and had been questioned about political activity before being issued desk appearance tickets and released. We received similar reports about such questioning of those arrested for minor offenses at the large antiwar march on March 22, 2003. In both instances, we were informed that those arrested had not been advised of their right to counsel, that requests to see counsel were ignored or met with threats of prolonged detention, and that lawyers seeking access to those being interrogated were kept outside One Police Plaza.

Late last week, we received a copy of a report form that we understand has been used in conjunction with the processing of demonstrators arrested at recent protest events here in New York City, including the February 15 and March 22 events. That form suggests that the reports we received were accurate and may well have understated the Department’s activity.

The form, a copy of which we enclose, is entitled “Criminal Intelligence Division / Demonstration Debriefing Form.” It bears the emblem of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division and of a federal agency. Its first section calls for information identifying the Intelligence Division officer conducting the interrogation. It then contains a section calling for specific information about the person arrested, including the demonstrator’s passport number and “Alien Registration” number. It then calls for information about the person’s organizational affiliations and has a space for “Prior Demonstration History.”

This form, viewed in conjunction with the reports we have received, raises the troubling prospect that the NYPD has embarked upon a concerted campaign to collect information about lawful First Amendment activity and is using the coercive environment of an arrest interrogation to obtain that information outside the presence of counsel. We also are concerned that the Department may be entering this information into some sort of database, with the potential result that information about lawful political activity is being intermingled with criminal-justice or even alleged terrorist information.

We can think of no legitimate reason why the New York City Police Department would be targeting demonstrators for interrogation about their political activities and affiliations. If the Department is collecting and compiling such information — and, perhaps, is sharing it with the federal government — we think this would be wholly inappropriate and should be halted. We also would call on you to assure that any such information that has been compiled be destroyed.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience about this matter.

Sincerely,

Christopher Dunn
Associate Legal Director

Donna Lieberman
Executive Director

c: Stephen Hammerman, NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters
Michael Cardozo, Corporation Counsel

Gail Donoghue, Special Assistant to the Corporation Counsel

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