The NYPD Wants to Watch You

Nation's Largest Law Enforcement Agency Vies for Total Spying Power

Collier had moved to the Lower East Side and embraced health care advocacy, earning a spot on the board of Bellevue Hospital and the esteem of such figures as the president of the city's public hospital system. In 1973, however, he was arrested on weapons possession and conspiracy charges. It turned out an undercover cop, Detective Oswaldo Alvarez, had been tailing Collier for two years.

"He was associated with a friend of mine," Collier recently recalled. "He appeared to be a community person who was distressed. I tried to get him a job, get him to go back to school. He would come and have dinner with me. He had free rein in my house."

During the trial it emerged that Alvarez had spied not only on Collier but on countless neighbors and colleagues Collier had contact with. Alvarez never had any criminal evidence to begin surveillance on Collier. And even after he had filed upward of 500 reports, his NYPD superiors still had to manufacture information to obtain the search warrant that cemented Collier's arrest.

Police videotaping of protesters, as at this February anti-globalization rally, could become the norm.
photo: Julia Xanthos
Police videotaping of protesters, as at this February anti-globalization rally, could become the norm.

"[P]olice officials falsely informed the press that defendant was the head of a named terrorist group," noted New York Supreme Court Judge Peter McQuillan in his 1975 ruling. He dismissed all the charges against Collier and issued a scathing denouncement of the NYPD that would be cited into the future, by the judge who signed the Handschu order as well.

"Unwarranted police surveillance . . . intimidates, demoralizes, and frightens the community into silence," McQuillan wrote. "Arbitrary and protracted police surveillance of community groups is the hallmark of every closed society. . . . A good faith claim by a police agency to control crime in an efficient and effective manner does not justify every infiltration effort. . . . You need not be an overheated civil libertarian to fear limitless police surveillance and infiltration."

Reached this month in retirement in Florida, McQuillan said of the NYPD's current effort to shed oversight, "Obviously, there are terrorists about. But how can these proposed changes help the city? I'm skeptical. Here we go again."

Research assistance: Jess Wisloski

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