2006-09-12 NYPD Expected to Back Off – NY1

September 12, 2006
Michael Scotto

The Police Department is expected to back off a controversial proposal that requires demonstrators to get permits just to march on the sidewalk.

Last month, the NYPD proposed regulations requiring groups of 35 or more to get a permit for marching on the sidewalk. In the street, groups larger than 20 would have needed a parade permit.

However, the Police Department said Friday it will revise that proposal because of public criticism. It expects to scrap the new requirements for pedestrians on the sidewalk, but 20 or more people moving along the street would still need a permit.

The NYPD says it drew up the restrictions because a judge ruled its regulations were too vague.

The department says permits allow police to plan for traffic disruptions in advance. Opponents say the plan goes against the U.S. constitution and hinders freedom of expression.

Police officials say they expect to publish the new permit rules in a few weeks.

Faced with strong criticism, the NYPD decided Friday to scrap a controversial rule that would have required any group of 35 or more people walking on a city sidewalk to get a permit.

Critics argued that the proposal would have outlawed many demonstrations and forced tour groups and children on field trips to apply for permission before going on a walk.

The NYPD says it is now in the process of drawing up new rules that would eliminate any reference to sidewalks.

But while civil liberties groups are happy the NYPD has decided to take the sidewalk provision off the table, they’re concerned another proposed rule won’t change.

The NYPD says a proposal which has angered participants in a monthly group bike ride known as Critical Mass is expected to be included in the new guidelines. That rule would require groups of 20 or more people moving along the street to get a permit, even if they are obeying traffic laws.

“These are regulations that go to the heart of activities protected explicitly by the first amendment, and the Constitution says you have to be really careful when you restrict those rights,” says Gideon Oliver, an attorney for Critical Mass.

The rule changes came about as a result of an ongoing legal fight with Critical Mass cyclists. The NYPD has been trying to force the group to apply for a permit before their monthly ride. But participants have argued that they don’t need a permit to ride lawfully on the street.

Once the new rules are formally proposed in the coming weeks, the public will have the chance to voice its opinion, in an ongoing battle that has put the Police Department at odds with civil liberties groups.