NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program

Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 08:55 PM

By Jason Devaney

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The New York City Police Department has terminated a secret program that spied on Muslims in the city. The program started in 2003 as way to identify terrorist activity, but  did not yield any credible leads.

The New York Times confirmed that the city's new police commissioner, William Bratton, put an end to the controversial program, which had undercover officers following Muslims around the city, creating maps where Muslims would gather for meals and social time, checking license plates at mosques, and ordering informants to videotape sermons.

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Called the Demographics Unit, the program employed about 12 members and was formed in the post-9/11 world with the help of former CIA officer Lawrence Sanchez.

Officers put together a wealth of intelligence based on the unit, but community members said it violated their rights. The program remained a secret until the Associated Press published a series of reports about its existence in 2011.

"The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community," Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York, told the Times. "Those documents, they showed where we live. That's the cafe where I eat. That's where I pray. That's where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community."

Two federal lawsuits stemming from the program are currently in the court system.

Bratton and other NYPD leaders met with select members of the public last week to discuss their plans to end the program, according to the Times.

"This is the first time we've felt that comfort sitting with them," community member Ahmad Jaber told the Times. "It's a new administration, and they are willing to sit with the community and listen to their concerns."

Officers in the Demographics Unit would visit places frequented by Muslims and eavesdrop on conversations. Other times they would talk to Muslim business owners — while undercover — and try to determine if they had anti-American views.

The unit also used a network of informants, who infiltrated Muslim groups on college campuses. The informants provided the police with the names and contact information of everyone that was part of those groups.

Former NYPD commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the program after it was made public, saying it was legal and that it helped keep the city safe.

New Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his campaign last year, however, that he was "deeply troubled" by the department's practice of conducting surveillance at mosques.

Kelly resigned from his post as the city's top cop at the end of December.

The Los Angeles Police Department had plans to conduct surveillance on Muslims in 2007, but Bratton, who was chief of that department, killed the program before it started.

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