NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton disbands unit responsible for spying on Muslim communities The so-called Demographics Unit, a fixture under the leadership of previous NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, had been tasked with conducting plainclothes surveillance work to keep tabs on the Muslim community.
The end has come for the secretive NYPD unit that spied on innocent Muslims, outraging the religious community and civil libertarians, who argued the surveillance violated the Constitution.
The NYPD has disbanded the former Demographics Unit, which had been a main cog of the aggressive anti-terror strategy put in place by former NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, city officials said Tuesday.
"Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair," Mayor de Blasio said.
"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."
Members of the Demographics Unit, which was created in 2003 and later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit following an uproar over disclosure of its activities, infiltrated Muslim communities, eavesdropped on conversations and built detailed files on people's eating, praying and shopping habits.
Shuttering the controversial unit marks Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's first major step to revamp aspects of his predecessor's post-9/11, anti-terror policies. The New York Times first reported the change on its website Tuesday.
The NYPD's lead spokesman, Stephen Davis, said the department began reviewing the unit's operations in January and found that much of the information developed by the unit "probably could have been just as readily obtained through other community outreach programs."
NYPD cops who were in the unit were transferred to different areas in the Intelligence Division or the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, Davis said.
The move was greeted by cautious praise from some who criticized the unit's activities under Kelly's leadership.
"The Demographics Unit needlessly spied on American Muslim communities, never producing any intelligence," said Faiza Patel, of the Brennan Center for Justice. "We hope its dissolution marks a new approach to policing in New York and look forward to reforms that curb all unwarranted intrusions into Muslims' personal and religious lives."
The unit, whose activities were disclosed a few years ago by The Associated Press, is the subject of two federal lawsuits.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which was a frequent critic of the NYPD's Muslim spying and its use of the stop-and-frisk practice under former Commissioner Kelly, said: "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."
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