Muslim groups and civil liberties advocates applauded the decision by the New York Police Department to disband a controversial unit that tracked the daily lives of Muslims as part of efforts to detect terrorism threats, reports the Associated Press. The Demographics Unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on Muslims, and plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and kept watch on Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.
After a series of AP stories detailing the extent of the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims, two civil rights lawsuits were filed challenging the activities as unconstitutional because they focused on people’s religion, national origin and race. Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had defended the surveillance tactics. But his replacement, William Bratton, concluded that information collected by the unit could be better obtained through direct contact with community groups, officials said. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the move “a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve.”