TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Out-of-state law enforcement agencies that wish to conduct counterterrorism surveillance operations in New Jersey would be required to notify state officials under a bill approved Thursday by the New Jersey Assembly.
Sponsor Charles Mainor, an assemblyman who is also a Jersey City police officer, said the measure was introduced in response to revelations that the New York Police Department had conducted surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey without notifying local authorities.
Mainor, a Hudson County Democrat, said Thursday he wanted to remind people that the spying was an affront to New Jersey residents, regardless of their religion. "No doubt we must protect our country against the threat of terrorism, but not at the expense of civil liberties," he said.
The NYPD operated secretly in New Jersey neighborhoods where Muslims lived and worked, spied on Muslim organizations, infiltrated Muslim student groups and videotaped mosque-goers. The activities, revealed in a series of articles by The Associated Press, angered many Muslims and New Jersey officials and resulted in a federal lawsuit against the NYPD.
The NYPD has long maintained that its operations were lawful and necessary to keep the city safe. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the NYPD can gather intelligence anywhere in the country it wants and is not required to tell local authorities. NYPD lawyers say they are not bound by jurisdictional lines because they are just collecting intelligence, not making arrests or otherwise acting as police.
A review by New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa also found that the NYPD did not violate any state laws, because New Jersey has no laws barring outside law enforcement agencies from secretly conducting operations within its borders.
Chiesa also said New York police had agreed to start meeting regularly with New Jersey law enforcement to discuss their counterterrorism operations. Chiesa has assured Muslim leaders that the NYPD unit that conducted the surveillance has ceased operations in New Jersey.
Mainor said the NYPD may not have violated New Jersey laws, "but a line was definitely crossed."
The Assembly legislation, which has yet to be considered by the Senate, would require that detailed notification of any planned surveillance by out-of-state law enforcement be provided to New Jersey's attorney general, the head of the state police and the chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction where the operation is to take place.
It would also allow prosecutors to get an injunction blocking an agency from conducting surveillance if it hasn't complied with the notification requirements.
The notification bill passed on a 76-3 vote.
Henry reported from Newark, N.J.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.