The suit is part of a larger public outcry against the NYPD, which is also under fire for its surveillance of American
Muslims, its dealings with Occupy Wall Street protesters, and its increasingly
frequent practice of stopping and frisking black and Latino men. But few have pointed to the thick information wall
surrounding Operation Clean Halls, which has been in existence, in some form,
"The NYPD and New York City in general under [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg
operate on the premise that data is power," said Donna Lieberman, executive
director at the New York Civil Liberties Union. "They claim to develop public
policy based on 'The facts, ma'am, and only the facts.' At the same time, they
are as stingy as stingy can be about giving out the facts, which they and only
Clean Halls, also known as the Trespass
Affidavit Program, began in Manhattan under Mayor David Dinkins' administration, a time
when New York faced widespread homelessness, a faltering economy, and a
crack-fueled crime wave. While Dinkins was often criticized during his
administration, today he is credited with setting in
motion a series of policies that began to turn the city around -- including the
hiring of thousands of new police officers.
Clean Halls was one of his programs for buckling down on crime. To enroll, the police
department asks landlords to sign an affidavit, permitting officers to enter a
private building at any time and question and arrest unlawful loiterers.
Building owners provide the police with a tenant roster, and anyone not on that
roster, or who cannot give a reasonable explanation for presence in the
building, is subject to arrest.
The program later expanded into all five boroughs, but it's unclear how
fast it spread or how many landlords enrolled their buildings. The lawsuit's
text says there are 3,895 Clean Halls participants in Manhattan, and nearly
every building in the Bronx is enrolled. But the NYPD will not release the list
of residences registered for the program, saying the release of
this data would constitute an unwarranted invasion of landlords' personal
The NYCLU is embroiled
in a separate lawsuit with the police department to obtain that
New York also allows the police to conduct patrols inside
city-owned public housing buildings, as do many other cities across the nation.
In New York, though, patrols of public buildings are subject to a level of
transparency and regulation that the police department has not extended to private
Clean Halls buildings. A list of all public housing residences is available online, for example. And
in 2010, the police department amended the code of conduct for patrolling
inside public buildings, amid complaints of baseless stops and arrests.
Critics of Clean Halls argue that while the program may have legitimate crime-fighting
origins, the opaqueness surrounding it has allowed the program to expand
unchecked. "I want the police to be involved," said Jacqueline Yates, a 53-year-old
former correctional officer and resident of a Clean Halls building in the Bronx.
"We need them, there is no doubt about that. It's the way they go about