Police Agreement: More Access and Less Horse Attacks for Political Protesters


photo by CarbonNYC via Flickr

New York City protests might lose a little of their cattle-drive feel after a legal agreement between the New York City Police Department and the New York Civil Liberties Union. For years the department has used barricades and mounted officers to control access to political demonstrations, but today agreed to change course on the use of these herding tactics.

Now, the NYPD has agreed to change its crowd control policies at political protests in response to a NYCLU lawsuit. Without admitting any legal liability, the NYPD will issue new regulations for the treatment of political protesters, including guidelines for improving access to areas where the department has barricaded groups of demonstrators and improved communication between police and protest organizers on how the NYPD will restrict access to protests.

“It’s going to ensure that when police restrict access, they will have to provide information to people and facilitate access to protests. That’s something the department has never taken on” said Chris Dunn, the lead lawyer for the NYCLU in the case.

Also, the NYPD has issued new advice for the use of mounted police in protests. Now, the manual for mounted officers will say that when using horses to disperse a crowd “it is important to ensure that a crowd or group to be dispersed has sufficient avenues of escape and/or retreat available.”

In the agreement the police department also agrees to pay two participants in the February 15th, 2003 anti-war protests $10,000 and $15,000 each for injuries sustained when mounted police charged into crowds. Each of the individual litigants was prevented from accessing the demonstration after their injuries.

The new rules on access notification require the Police to provide information on restrictions to the press, public and protest organizers. Additionally, police officers at the scene must use sound amplification to inform large groups on how to get to protests after blocking of streets or sidewalks, and individual officers manning checkpoints must be constantly updated on routes to access demonstrations. Dunn points to the changes as a significant shift in how the NYPD deals with accessing protests:

“The department has been very busy restricting access to protests, now they will have to promote access and make sure people are getting to these events”