NYPD Commissioner Shutters Unit Spying On Muslims

A much-maligned New York Police Department special unit created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to gather intelligence about the city’s Muslim community is no more.

Shortly after taking over his new post, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton (above, right) ordered a review of the department’s Zone Assessment Unit, which was created in 2003 as the Demographics Unit to infiltrate and eavesdrop on Muslim community groups. On Tuesday, according to the New York Daily News, Bratton decided to disband the unit, reassigning its detectives and officers to the NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau or Intelligence Division.

Stephen Davis, an NYPD spokesman, said Bratton’s review determined that the same results “probably could have been just as readily obtained through other community outreach programs.”

The target of two federal lawsuits, the unit was created by ex-NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly as part of the city’s multifaceted anti-terrorism plan, which also included a stop-and-frisk tactic. No matter how well-intentioned, however, that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do, said Mayor Bill de Blasio:

“Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair. This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”

Though cautious to measure the graciousness of their remarks, since the NYPD’s spying on the Muslim community could very well continue under even deeper cover, the unit’s disbanding was met with lukewarm praise from its staunchest critics, like Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who’s been a vocal critic the NYPD spying unit.

“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,” she said.

According to a fact sheet on the NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance Program by the ACLU, a range of Muslim-centric community groups and leaders were targeted for “religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance,” from student organizations, mosques and civic leaders to private citizens, businesses and non-profit organizations.

The unit wasn’t confined to the city, either. NYPD’s Muslim surveillance targeted mosques within 100 miles of the city, well into other states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Using informants, plainclothes officers called “rakers,” computerized mapping of Muslim enclaves, photo/video surveillance and comprehensive databases chronicling individual movements and group bylaws, the program “imposed an unwarranted badge of suspicion and stigma on law-abiding Muslim New Yorkers,” according to the ACLU.

For an inside look at the NYPD unit’s methods and a chronology of its activities, read this detailed report compiled by the City University of New York School of Law.

[Image courtesy of Twitter/@CommissBratton]