Supporters said the Demographics Unit was central to keeping the city safe, though a senior NYPD official testified last year that the unit never generated any leads or triggered a terrorism investigation.
Matthew C. Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School who specializes in national security law and has spoken of the role of local police in anti-terrorism efforts, called counterterrorism "inherently and inevitably somewhat of a local police concern" because it's a threat to local security and because local police often have the relationships needed to uncover possible plots.
"On the other hand, aggressive police surveillance or even just perceived surveillance can alienate local communities and cause to dry up the very sources of information so critical to countering terrorism," he said.
Civil rights attorney Ron Kuby, who has represented several Muslims in connection with terrorism cases, said Kelly's calculus is probably shared by most New Yorkers: "If I over-police, I tread on civil liberties and people complain and file lawsuits. If I under-police, there's a smoking crater in Manhattan and thousands are dead. Gee, what should I do?"
He praised the civil rights lawyers for bringing the Handschu action, saying it was time to restore some of the "damage to the Constitutional fabric of America" after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But he added a little praise for Kelly, too: "I share the general feeling of the citizenry of saying he does a good job of making sure we haven't been blown up on our way to work."
The Handschu guidelines came out of a lawsuit the civil rights lawyers filed and a subsequent 1985 court settlement that set strict time limits for investigations, imposed rules on the kinds of records police could keep and created a three-person body to oversee such investigations.
Handschu was a reference to lead plaintiff Barbara Handschu in a case that included 1960s radical activist Abbie Hoffman among its plaintiffs.
It was not immediately clear when the judge will rule on the new motion.
Sullivan reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report from New York.
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