NEW YORK Citing a climate altered by terrorist threats, the New York Police Department asked a court to sharply curtail the powers of a panel that oversees the department's surveillance of political groups.
The request, filed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan, would eliminate many of the panel's powers to monitor and regulate surveillance of domestic activists.
The department now must seek permission from the three-member authority to use undercover officers to investigate any political group believed to be involved in planning a crime.
The authority, which consists of two deputy police commissioners and a civilian appointee, must grant permission for the NYPD to conduct such investigations for more than 30 days. Police investigators are also restricted from gathering all but the most basic information about planned political demonstrations.
Those restrictions would be eliminated under the department's request.
David Cohen, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence, wrote in the court filing that terrorists have used the First Amendment protections of mosques and Islamic institutes to hide their activities. The authority's guidelines have become a grave impediment to the NYPD's thorough investigation of such groups, he wrote.
Mohammad Sherwani, director of the Muslim Center of New York, said the panel provides an important check on the department.
"They should not become overzealous about it. They have enough authority," he said. "They should go through the proper channels. We have to trust those channels."