Measure Looks to Avoid Repeat of Controversial Secret Interstate Surveillance of Muslim Residents in New Jersey by New York City Police Department
(TRENTON) – As the controversy over a secret surveillance operation by the New York Police Department (NYPD) that targeted many innocent Muslim residents in New Jersey winds down, an Assembly panel on Monday released legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson) that would help prevent another occurrence by requiring out-of-state law enforcement to properly notify law enforcement officials in New Jersey of intended surveillance activities in the state.
“As a law enforcement officer, I can appreciate the importance of a surveillance operation, but not when conducted in secrecy and potentially in violation of the civil rights of our residents,” said Mainor, who is a detective with the Jersey City Police Department. “If an out-of-state law enforcement agency finds it necessary to conduct surveillance in our state, then they must inform our law enforcement officials about it and justify the need for it, so our residents are protected from what, many who followed the NYPD surveillance debacle, felt amounted to racial and religious profiling.”
This follows the secret surveillance of Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups in New Jersey by the New York Police Department. These operations were part of a widespread program by the NYPD to collect intelligence on Muslim communities inside New York and beyond.
Undercover officers and informants eavesdropped in Muslim cafes and monitored sermons, gathering information on people based on their language and ethnicity, even when there was no evidence of a crime. The unit that conducted the surveillance did not generate a lead or case in the six years the program has been in place. The unit has since ceased its operation in New Jersey.
The bill (A-2984) requires out-of-state law enforcement entities to provide prior notice before conducting a surveillance operation in New Jersey to the Attorney General, the superintendent of State Police, and the chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction where the surveillance operation is set to take place. The bill requires that the notification include the identity and qualifications of the law enforcement officers conducting the surveillance operation, the identity of the individual or group of individuals that will be under surveillance, the intended location of the surveillance operation and a statement providing the time period during which the surveillance operation will be conducted.
The out-of-state law enforcement entity is also required to provide a statement of facts establishing the purpose of the surveillance activities and the type of information that may be obtained from surveillance. If an out-of-state law enforcement agency does not comply with the notification requirements under the bill, the Attorney General may seek a temporary or permanent injunction in a summary proceeding in Superior Court. The bill allows the court to enter an order to prevent the performance of a surveillance operation, or to require compliance with the provisions of the bill.
“No doubt we must protect our country against the threat of terrorism, but not at the expense of civil liberties. The Attorney General’s review into the NYPD surveillance operation found no laws were broken, but a line was definitely crossed. This bill helps dictate that surveillance in our backyard by other states, without our knowledge and adequate justification, cannot happen again,” said Mainor.
The bill was released by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.