In Congress, City’s Lawmakers Tackle NYPD Surveillance

May 10, 2012, 1:20 PM ET
In Congress, City’s Lawmakers Tackle NYPD Surveillance

Associated Press
A protest in November against the New York Police Department’s alleged surveillance of Muslim communities.
Most of New York City’s House delegation backed a failed measure to rebuke the New York Police Department’s intelligence-gathering efforts focused on Muslim groups.

Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced an amendment to a Justice Department appropriations bill that would have blocked spending on police programs found to violate the U.S. Constitution or federal antidiscrimination laws. The measure, Holt made clear, was part of his broader push to stop the NYPD’s counterterrorism and surveillance efforts focused on Muslims.

“My amendment would ensure that no federal funds are flowing to any law-enforcement entity that the [Justice] Department has identified as engaging in racial, ethnic, and religious profiling,” he said in introducing the measure.

It failed Wednesday night in a largely party-line vote, 232 to 193. Almost all of New York City overwhelmingly Democratic House delegation voted in favor of the amendment.

Only Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm and Queens Rep. Robert Turner, the city’s two Republicans, voted against it. Two Long Island lawmakers, Republican Rep. Peter King and Democrat Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, also opposed the amendment.

The NYPD’s counterterrorism tactics have come under scrutiny as the result of an Associated Press probe into efforts targeting Muslim groups in the city and across the region, including in New Jersey. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have defended the department’s approach as necessary and legal.

On its own, however, Holt’s amendment likely wouldn’t have forced the NYPD to make many changes to its tactics. Even critics of surveillance program typically don’t argue that such measures are unconstitutional or violate federal law.

But Holt, in introducing the amendment, also asked the Justice Department to investigate what he described “a pattern of surveillance and infiltration by the New York Police Department against innocent American Muslims in the absence of a valid investigative reason.”

A spokesman for Holt acknowledged Thursday that the measure would have had little operational impact on police conduct. It was meant to be “a restatement and reinforcement” and “a very loud statement of Congressional intent” in opposition to the NYPD’s tactics, the spokesman said.

King, one of the NYPD’s most vocal defenders, took the floor during debate to oppose the amendment and “disagree with virtually every word spoken on the floor tonight by the gentleman from New Jersey.”

“I have full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law, and it’s something that again has been responsible for keeping this city safe over the past decade,” the Long Island Republican said.

On Thursday, King said he wouldn’t have spoken up on the measure if Holt hadn’t specifically criticized the NYPD as he introduced it. “Obviously he was using this as a means to attack the NYPD and implying that they don’t follow the law,” he said.

Holt introduced a new measure Thursday aimed again at the NYPD. This time, it’s a resolution that reprises the congressman’s previous condemnation of “unjustified surveillance and unlawful profiling of Muslim American communities by the New York Police Department” and calls for a federal investigation.

The new measure is less likely to see the House floor — and not a single New York lawmaker was among its initial cosponsors.

Corrections & Amplifications:

There are two Republican members of Congress from New York City and both voted against Rep. Rush Holt’s amendment. An earlier version of this post incorrectly described said Rep. Michael Grimm as the city’s only Republican member of Congress.

Copyright 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. Distribution and use of this material are governed by our Subscriber Agreement and by copyright law. For non-personal use or to order multiple copies, please contact Dow Jones Reprints at 1-800-843-0008 or visit