The Big Apple’s Big Brother: An NYPD Timeline

Chris Anderson Apr 12, 2007

1955: The NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services (“BoSS” or “the Red Squad”) is formed. This secret division is tasked with spying on domestic political dissidents – especially, by the 1960s, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords.

1969: The first police cameras are installed near City Hall.

1971: The 1971 “Handschu lawsuit” exposes the level of citywide political surveillance.

1980: NYPD signs the Handschu Consent Decree, resulting in the prohibition of the NYPD from investigating any individual or group without specific information of criminal intent. Under the settlement, the NYPD agrees to release contents of its secret files on more than 250,000 New Yorkers.

1993 – 1996: Despite the formal prohibition of political spying and infiltration, New York continues to install technologically sophisticated devices, especially security cameras, in order to deter crime. In the four years, the Department of Transportation installs red-light surveillance cameras; legislation mandates the creation of cameras at ATM machines; and various tourism-heavy areas of the city are flooded with cameras.

1998: The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) notes that there are 2,397 surveillance cameras in Manhattan alone.

2002: The city files to modify the Handschu Consent Decree in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A compromise is reached in which the police agree to abide by constitutional standards that protect free speech.

2002: Unconfirmed reports allege that the NYPD has infiltrated various antiglobalization organizations, including the NYC Independent Media Center, in the run up to World Economic Forum meetings in New York.

2003: Antiwar protesters arrested at events throughout the winter of 2002 are forced to answer NYPD questions concerning their political beliefs. The infamous “demonstration debriefing forms” are later discontinued and destroyed, according to the police.

2004: In the run-up to the Republican National Convention, the NYPD’s “RNC Intelligence Squad” engages in massive preconvention surveillance of political groups in NYC and around the world.

2007: A judge rules that the NYPD has violated the relaxed Handschu Consent Decree through its videotaping of public demonstrations. The city responds by attempting to further modify Handschu – and perhaps eliminate it entirely.

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