The NYPD has disbanded its controversial detective unit that allegedly spied on Muslim communities throughout the five boroughs, officials said Tuesday.
The task force, that's been dubbed Demographics Unit, was heavily criticized by the city’s Islamic leaders and civil rights groups who said the police engaged in undercover racial profiling.
Stephen Davis, deputy commissioner for public information of the NYPD, said the department, as part of its overall reassessment of intelligence activities, decided the unit’s activities could be handled differently.
“By and large what the found was that a lot of information from the zone assessment unit was information that could have just as readily been obtained from other community outreach programs,” Davis told reporters Tuesday night.
The NYPD’s announcement was first reported by The New York Times Tuesday afternoon.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said removing the unit, which had been in operation since 2003 under former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, was the only way to ensure a fair policing of the city.
“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.
The group’s existence was made public in 2011 by an Associated Press report, which said the unit included several plainclothes officers who monitored Muslim suspects at businesses, places of worship and other locations in the city.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the NYPD's protocol, despite two federal lawsuits.
The NYCLU, which filed one of the lawsuits, said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s move was a good first step at curbing racial profiling within the department.
“We hope that the Demographics Unit's discriminatory activities will not be carried out by other parts of the NYPD,” the NYCLU’s executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
When Bratton was the head of the Los Angeles Police Department, he considered a plan that would create a detailed map of the Muslim population in the city, but withdrew it after public outcry.
“The Muslim community has made it quite clear that they really felt that it was inappropriate,” he told a Los Angeles television station following the withdrawal of the plan.
The commissioner, who has also pushed for reforms to the NYPD’s stop and frisk tactic, has repeatedly said he wants to improve relations between New Yorkers and the police.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito praised Bill Bratton for dissolving the unit, which has been the subject of two lawsuits by Muslim groups.
“By disbanding the unit, NYPD reaffirms that profiling based on your religion, the color of your skin or where your family is from is counterproductive and wrong. Commissioner Bratton deserves strong praise for taking this bold action,” she said in a statement.
- With Newsday