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NYPD surveillance of political activism questioned

NEW YORK--Political activists asked a new inspector general for the New York Police Department on Tuesday to force police officials to fully disclose details about how undercover officers sought to secretly infiltrate and monitor liberal activist groups.

Representatives of the groups hand-delivered a written complaint, which also called on the NYPD to account for “public moneys spent on these useless operations,” to the lower Manhattan office of Philip Eure. It was the former federal prosecutor's first day on the job following his appointment earlier this year by the city Department of Investigation as the city's first-ever inspector general overseeing the NYPD.

“We're cautiously hopeful that the inspector general will pursue his mandate in favor of civil liberties,” said Robert Jereski, a coordinator of a group called Friends of Brad Will.

In a statement, the Department of Investigation confirmed the paperwork was received. It said Eure will review it and “determine appropriate investigative action once the office is staffed.”

NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis said the police department would cooperate with any inquiry.

The independent watchdog post was created last year by the City Council in response to rising concerns over the NYPD's widespread tactic of street stops — known as “stop and frisk” — and its extensive surveillance of Muslims, as disclosed in stories by The Associated Press. Eure's first chore in the coming weeks is to assemble a staff of about 50 investigators, lawyers and analysts.

The complaint was filed by a coalition that includes environmental, human rights, housing rights and animal rights activists. It accuses NYPD of targeting free speech activities that provide “vital nourishment to our democratic system of government and prevents its corruption and atrophy.”

It adds: “There is no place for police surveillance of political activity let alone police operations to subvert it in New York City's thriving democracy.”

Over the years, the NYPD's Intelligence Division has sought to gather inside information about plans for political protests, claiming it was needed to take measures to keep the gatherings from turning violent.

In 2012, the AP disclosed documents detailing how an undercover NYPD officer traveled to New Orleans in 2008 to attend the People's Summit, a gathering of liberal groups. The officer reported overhearing participants discuss how the Friends of Brad Will was planning demonstrations in Mexico and across the United States to demand the removal of the governor of Oaxaca, Mexico.

Friends of Brad Will — formed after the murder of Will in 2006 while he was working as a journalist in Mexico — has a stated mission of increasing “public awareness about the human rights abuses linked to the 'war on drugs.'” Since the disclosure about the NYPD's surveillance, it and other groups have seen a decline in donations and participation, Jereski said.

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