Washington, April 16 (IANS) New York Police Department has disbanded a controversial surveillance unit started after the September 11, 2001, attacks to catalogue information on Muslim businesses and mosques across the New York region.
Developed with the CIA’s help after 9/11, the so-called Demographics Unit-or Zone Assessment Unit-has been the target of controversy and civil lawsuits.
“Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing information regarding potential threats coming to the attention of the New York City Police Department,” the department said in a statement Tuesday.
But “it has been determined that much of the same information previously gathered by the Zone Assessment Unit may be obtained through direct outreach by the NYPD to the communities concerned,” it said.
Muslim Advocates and the Centre for Constitutional Rights, two advocacy groups that filed a lawsuit challenging the unit and its activities in 2012, said they were pleased it had been disbanded but want to ensure the surveillance stops.
Welcoming the dismantling of the unit “as a long overdue step towards reining in the unconstitutional excesses of the NYPD” they said in a joint statement, “what has to stop is the practice of suspicion-less surveillance of Muslim communities, not just the unit assigned to do it.”
“We will continue to work, through litigation and advocacy, to ensure the NYPD is fully and finally respecting the rights of the Muslim community.”
That suit, Hassan v. City of New York, was dismissed in February and is currently under appeal.
The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also welcomed the disbanding of the surveillance unit.
“This is an important first step. However, the damage of unconstitutional mass spying on people solely on the basis of their religion has already been carried out and must be addressed,” said Board President Ryan Mahoney.
“We need to hear from the mayor and NYPD officials that the policy itself has been ended and that the department will no longer apply mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing to any faith-based community,” he said.
“Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“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,” he said in a statement Tuesday.