Four New York lawmakers sued the city Monday over its handling of the Occupy Wall Street protests, saying police conduct is so problematic that the department needs an outside monitor.

The city and police violated demonstrators' free speech rights, used excessive force, arrested protesters on dubious charges and interfered with journalists' and council members' efforts to observe what was going on, the four City Council members and others say in the federal civil rights suit.

The suit was filed a day before Occupy and labor activists planned a large May Day march.

The city Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended police handling of the protests, which started in September over economic inequality.

"This police department knows how to control crowds without excessive force," Bloomberg said after some council members complained about what they called police brutality at an Occupy demonstration in March.

The officials want an independent eye to review all of the more than 2,000 Occupy-related arrests and to explore the closures of some public spaces linked to protests.

"We need accountability, we need relief . and we're not going to just sit idly by," council member Jumaane Williams said.

Some state legislators also have proposed an independent inspector for the New York Police Department, citing the Occupy protests and other issues.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.