[JURIST] The new commissioner of the New York Police Department (NYPD) [official website] William Bratton announced Wednesday the disbanding of a surveillance unit used to spy on Muslim communities. The Demographics Unit [AP backgrounder], established in 2003, utilized [NYT report] plainclothes detectives to map communities both inside and outside New York City, tracking the movements and conversations of Muslim individuals. According to the New York Times, the unit, composed of around 12 detectives, was created to look for “hot spots” of radicalization that could theoretically provide early warning of possible terrorist activities. Surveillance focused on 28 “ancestries of interest.” At a pretrial examination [text, PDF] before the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] Commanding Officer of the Intelligence Division Thomas Galati admitted that the program had never generated a lead. The tactics of the unit had drawn significant criticism and generated two federal lawsuits.
The Associated Press’s reports on the the NYPD’s surveillance efforts targeting Muslim communities have generated significant outrage in the Muslim community and triggered a number of lawsuits. In February a judge for the US District Court for the District of New Jersey [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims was a lawful effort for national security and did not constitute harm or violation of civil rights. The Muslim Advocates [advocacy website] filed [JURIST report] the lawsuit in 2012. In September former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly admitted [JURIST report] that the NYPD spied on mosques and on a Muslim preacher but requested that the court dismiss the complaint.