The NYPD announced yesterday that it will end the secret spying on Muslims groups in the city, breaking apart a task force that infiltrated the Islamic community. The surveillance program strained the relationship between Muslim leaders and the police, but NYPD commissioner William J. Bratton appears committed to repair the rift.
The Demographics Unit, also known as the Zone Assessment Unit, essentially placed plainclothes officers in close proximity to Muslims in the city and spied on their activities. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the program was crafted to collect intelligence on potential threats from within the Muslim community.
The true nature of the unit was exposed by a Pulitzer Prize-winning group of Associated Press reporters who launched an investigation into the spy unit. Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly and former mayor Michael Bloomberg both praised the necessity of the unit although it did little in the way of give police leads to cunning terrorists plots or the like.
According to the New York Times, Muslim leaders and civil liberties activists met with Bratton last Wednesday where intelligence chief, John Miller, said that the unit would no longer spy on Muslims. The news came as a relief to Linda Sarsour, who works with the Arab Association of New York.
“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” said Sarsour. “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.”
A spokesman for the NYPD said the force will now gather information through “direct contact between police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.”
The Demographics Unit was created in 2003 by CIA operative Lawrence Sanchez. It has never generated any solid leads in its existence. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton have promised to mend the divide between the NYPD and Muslims.
Photo: Julius Schorzman/Wikipedia Commons