The NYPD’s investigations involving political activity have been regulated for decades by a federal consent decree known as the “Handschu Guidelines,” which derive from a lawsuit titled Handschu v. Special Services Division. The original guidelines, approved in 1985, prohibited the NYPD from investigating political activity unless it had “specific information” that the targets were involved in criminal conduct, and established a three-member “Handschu Authority” responsible for authorizing such investigations. In 2003, citing terrorism concerns, the City successfully moved to abolish the Authority’s approval role and loosen the rules for investigations. However, in 2011, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press investigation revealed that the NYPD was conducting blanket surveillance of Muslim communities in New York. Suspecting a violation of the decree, the Handschu attorneys returned to court. Simultaneously, a second lawsuit, Raza v. City of New York, challenged the constitutionality of the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program. In 2014, counsel in both cases agreed to joint settlement negotiations with the City, resulting in a series of proposed changes to the 2003 Handschu Guidelines. These changes will only come into force after a federal judge approves the settlement through a “fairness hearing,” which will be held on April 19, 2016.
The Brennan Center submitted testimony in support of the proposed settlement in Raza and Handschu, urging the court to approve it.
Read an analysis of the settlement by Faiza Patel and Michael Price here.