Gov. Chris Christie said today that law enforcement surveillance programs initiated without probable cause are not inherently wrong and should be reviewed on a case by case basis.
The governor was responding to a question about the New York City Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim groups in New Jersey and at 16 area colleges. The NYPD has drawn condemnation for the program that monitors Muslim groups without probable cause.
“We were confronted with a lot of those difficult decisions…in federal law enforcement post 9/11. These are very complicated issues and I think they have to be made on a case by case basis,” Christie said. “I don’t think you can set out one hard and fast rule on this. I think when you put that kind of straight jacket on yourself it’s kind of hard to then make sure you’re serving and protecting the people the way you’re supposed to.”
Christie said it’s up to law enforcement leaders to make those decisions and they should be trusted to make them correctly.
Christie sharply criticized the NYPD’s failure to notify New Jersey officials, or even members of the joint terrorism task force of the program.
The issue has drawn the governor into a war of words with New York officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said assertions that the department should stop its surveillance at the border are “ridiculous.”
“What we’ve been doing in New Jersey is what anybody in this country or in the world can do. You can go to open meetings, and you can go on open websites and look and see what’s there, and that’s really all we’ve been doing,” Bloomberg said on an appearance on WOR radio. “We have a responsibility to do that, and we share the information with New Jersey.”
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Peter King accused Christie of playing politics with the issue.
“It’s really disturbing and disappointing to have someone like Chris Christie join on this politically correct bandwagon,” King said on his own WOR-AM appearance. “I wish Chris Christie was more concerned about keeping people alive than he is about trying to score cheap political points.”
Christie responded to King during a press conference Monday, saying King was simply protecting his “buddy,” NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
“Someone should ask Congressman King if he opposes law enforcement agencies coordinating with each other because I’ve heard him speak on it in the past. So I assume the only thing he opposes is Ray Kelly having to coordinate with anybody. I did this work, as opposed to Congressman King. He never prosecuted a terrorism case, I’ve prosecuted a number of them.”
As he has in the past, Christie stressed that he is making no judgments on the legality of the program, only on the lack of cooperation from the NYPD.
“The NYPD has this reputation,” he said. “If the NYPD has a choice between telling you and not telling you, more times than not they don’t. We need to be vigilant about this and we need to get with the program.”ie
Christie also said he was reviewing two executive orders signed in 2005 that granted the NYPD some authority to conduct operations in New Jersey. He is reviewing the orders alongside his chief counsel, Christie said, but any further action would come in conjunction with Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, who is conducting his own review of the NYPD’s surveillance program.