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By Rocco Parascandola

NEW YORK - The New York Police Department has stopped videotaping demonstrators at protests, ending a practice it had been trying to formalize since the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan.
The decision was hailed by lawyers involved in the case as a victory for activist groups and New Yorkers who feel strongly about their right to protest without fear of winding up in a police dossier.
The NYPD, however, said it was never in the business of spying. "There was no political surveillance," says Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne.
The development is the latest in the decades-old Handschu case, a 1971 class action lawsuit that resulted in guidelines prohibiting police from investigating political groups unless a crime is happening or is about to happen.
The NYPD after the Sept. 11 attack called the rules too restrictive to prevent terrorism, and it videotaped protests at subsequent large rallies, most notably during the GOP presidential convention in 2004.
The department since then has tried to formalize this practice, with opposition from the plaintiffs in the Handschu case.
There was debate yesterday about whether police told anyone it would no longer tape demonstrations. Lawyers in the Handschu case said that in April 2007, without notifying the judge in the case, the NYPD stopped taping demonstrations from beginning to end, with officers instructed to tape only illegal activity or when they suspected someone was about to break the law.
The lawyers said they didn't learn of it until last month, but Celeste Koeleveld, a lawyer for the city, said the city notified the judge and opposing counsel in February 2007.
Regardless, one of the Handschu lawyers, Arthur Eisenberg, who is also the NYCLU's legal director, said he is glad police will no longer tape entire rallies.
"The police department's commitment to the casual creation of political dossiers on individuals and groups must end," he said.

Wire Service
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