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Denying it was making a post-Sept. 11 grab for power that would give it more freedom than the FBI, the New York City Police Department on Tuesday renewed its request to loosen federal restrictions on police surveillance. In court papers submitted Tuesday to Southern District Judge Charles S. Haight Jr., the NYPD said the safety of New Yorkers would be jeopardized if officers had to prove suspicion of criminal activity before they could investigate political groups in search of connections to terrorism, as they are required to by a federal consent decree. The papers said that before the NYPD begins to monitor a group, it should have to show only that the activity served a law enforcement purpose. The documents were the third set of filings received by Judge Haight since the NYPD asked him to modify a consent decree known as the Handschu Agreement. The 1985 decree, named for Buffalo attorney and family law expert Barbara Handschu, settled a class action brought against the city by political groups, including the Black Panthers, in 1971. The decree requires police to ask a three-member panel, the Handschu Authority, for permission to conduct investigations into political groups. The panel is made up of two law enforcement officials and a civilian. The NYPD asked Haight in September to modify the agreement so police officers would not need permission or suspicion of criminal activity to investigate political groups. The department said the changes were necessary because of the threat of terrorism. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the original suit responded by saying the changes were unnecessary and would result in spying, racial profiling against Muslims and violations of civil liberties. The New York Civil Liberties Union also said it was strongly opposed to the modifications. In a declaration, David Cohen, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and a 35-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the request for a modification was not “an effort to grab power so that the NYPD could ‘spy’ on political activity.” He said that the NYPD had tested the Handschu guidelines in the field and found that they “were not workable in the context of terrorism.” He did not cite specific instances when investigations were hampered. The NYPD has previously asked Judge Haight to accept a confidential declaration from Cohen that it says will further explain the ill effects Handschu could have on terrorism investigations. The plaintiffs, who would not be able to see the papers, have strenuously objected to that request. Haight has yet to decide whether he will allow the submission. FBI GUIDELINES Tuesday’s court papers attempted to rebut claims by the plaintiffs that relaxed guidelines would give the NYPD more latitude than the FBI when investigating political groups. The papers said the FBI, which recently changed its guidelines, can conduct preliminary investigations without specific information of criminal activity. Without Handschu, the papers said, the NYPD, like the FBI, would be subject to the “law enforcement purpose” standard defined in Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972). According to the FBI’s guidelines, which the NYPD said are internal and not limiting, FBI agents can attend public events and record information, though they cannot retain information “unless it relates to potential criminal or terrorist activity.” “There is no justification for plaintiffs’ prediction of abusive police conduct in either the record in this action or the history of NYPD compliance with the Decree,” the NYPD’s papers said. In his declaration, Cohen said the city police needed to gather information not specifically related to criminal activity because those “leads may not be immediately fruitful but may, at some future time, become the key to an important revelation.” Cohen also responded to criticism of him, saying, “The claim that I have exaggerated the dangers we face from terrorism is na�ve.” He added that equating the NYPD’s motion with a request to conduct racial profiling “serves no purpose that I can see but to inject a ‘charged’ issue into these proceedings.” Justice Haight has not set a date for a hearing on the motion, a spokeswoman for the Corporation Counsel’s Office said.

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