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NYPD stops Muslim surveillance program

16 April 2014 General 15 Comments Email This Post Email This Post
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly fields questions from the press regarding various topics surrounding safety in the public parks, stop and frisk, crime rates and other issues on Aug. 29, 2013. (Credit: Nancy Borowick)

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly fields questions from the press regarding various topics surrounding safety in the public parks, stop and frisk, crime rates and other issues on Aug. 29, 2013. (Credit: Nancy Borowick)

NYPD stops Muslim surveillance program

By ANTHONY M. DESTEFANO  anthony.destefano@newsday.com

The NYPD has disbanded a special unit that was at the center of the controversy surrounding surveillance of the Muslim community and has reassigned its officers, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

The so-called zone assessment unit, which for a time also was known as the “demographic unit,” came into existence by 2003 and, according to the NYPD, was set up to find out where ethnic populations, particularly from the Mideast, settled in the city. The idea was to use the unit’s database to locate mosques, Internet shops, bookstores and other places where would-be terrorists might stop to make contacts while in transit.

Stephen Davis, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public information, said that as part of its overall reassessment of intelligence activities, the department decided the unit’s activities could be handled differently.

“By and large what they found was that a lot of information from the zone assessment unit was information that could have just as readily been obtained from other community outreach programs,” Davis told reporters last night.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other liberal Democrats praised the news that the unit was being disbanded. “I commend Commissioner [William] Bratton and the NYPD leadership for taking a strong stand to protect the civil liberties of New Yorkers — while still keeping us safe — by disbanding a program that had drawn strong and broad criticism, including from the FBI,” de Blasio said in a statement.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), however, believes the Muslim community still poses a major terror threat to New York City.

“The reality is the terrorist threat is coming from the Muslim community, and however it is defined, it has to be monitored,” King said Tuesday night.

“The NYPD’s disbanding of a unit that targeted New York Muslims and mapped their everyday institutions and activities is a welcome first step for which we commend Commissioner Bratton,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement. “We hope that the demographics unit’s discriminatory activities will not be carried out by other parts of the NYPD.”

The breakup of the unit came about a week after Bratton met with Muslim leaders who were critical of NYPD activities. At that time, Bratton said the unit was being disbanded and remarked that the old policies had not been the best practices, said Zead Ramadan, a board member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who was at the meeting.

Bratton said he wanted to take a more collaborative approach and build relationships with the Muslim community, Ramadan recalled. “At end of the day this administration is looking at New York Muslims as not different than any other group, and our Constitutional rights should be respected,” Ramadan said.

Formed under the leadership of former Commissioner Ray Kelly, the special unit drew strong criticism from some Muslims who viewed the snooping as an infringement on their First Amendment rights. Kelly and the department defended the surveillance program, saying it was lawful and followed investigative leads.

Kelly said a 2002 federal court decree permitted the unit and other police investigators to do their work by relaxing certain restrictions on police information gathering and surveillance activities after Sept. 11. In essence, the so-called Handschu guidelines allowed police to collect information from open sources and to attend meetings open to the public.

NYPD Muslim surveillance activity under the new Handschu guidelines is the subject of a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan.

A New York state politician who didn’t want to be named said Bratton took this action to smooth over relations with the Muslim community, adding that police would carry out some investigative activities through their larger counterterrorism activities.

One former high-level NYPD official who also didn’t want to be named criticized the notion that collaborative relations would be fruitful in terrorism probes. “Your average Muslim in New York City isn’t going to have information on terror plots,” the official said.





15 Comments »

  1. It doesnt matter, virtually everyone is monitored anyway.

  2. Aziz Hazizi 😉

  3. Don’t read the comments to the NY Times article. Really depressing.

  4. How PROFOUND.

  5. Now i can travel NY without fear.

  6. Yeah- cuz the average white man statistically has been more involved in plots. rme :-/

  7. Genius.

  8. if it stopped just one bombing and only one person being slaughtered it was worth every cent

  9. “NYPD: Couldn’t get a clue during clue mating season in a field full of horny clues, if it sprayed clue musk on itself and did a clue mating dance.”

  10. Good. Now stop discriminating other people. Regardless of their religious beliefs, racial and ethnic background, and sex. I’m sick of all the crap that people do to one other.

  11. jew propaganda is costly

  12. LMAO Mukhter Ali Said. Targeting my own community?!?! Clearly you missed the point. It doesnt matter because unlike you, I find it appalling when ANY and ALL innocent people are unfairly searched, spied on and monitored. Furthermore, dont think for a second that there arent neo-cons who instruct the NSA and all the other agencies to focus on Muslims. Wake up.

  13. Jay, they admitted the program didn’t generate a single lead… Let alone “stop one bombing” or anyone being slaughtered.

  14. You mean all those extra security that “randomly” search you didn’t work :O

  15. I kinda wish they would keep going with this. Honestly.

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