Around the Nation
6:01 pm
Fri February 24, 2012

N.J.: NYPD Crossed The Line In Monitoring Muslims

Originally published on Fri February 24, 2012 8:37 pm

Ever since Sept. 11, the New York Police Department has been aggressively gathering intelligence to help prevent another terrorist attack.

Now, those tactics are provoking new controversy in New Jersey after The Associated Press published a confidential, 60-page NYPD report from 2007 containing detailed information on dozens of mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in nearby Newark.

Local officials are upset by the extent to which the NYPD is monitoring Muslims beyond New York City's limits, and activists are outraged by what they see as an overly broad investigation into the lives of law-abiding Muslims.

"It's unconstitutional, un-American," said Mohamed El filali, outreach director at the Islamic Center of Passaic County, during a Friday press conference in Newark. "If there is a lead, by all means, I totally agree that there should be an investigation ... [The] safety of our country comes first, but not at the jeopardy of our civil liberties."

On his weekly radio show on Friday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NYPD needs to collect the kind of intelligence found in the 2007 report in order to keep the city safe.

"Everything the New York City Police Department has done is legal. It is appropriate. It is constitutional," Bloomberg said. "They are permitted to travel beyond the borders of New York City to investigate cases ... We don't target individuals based on race or religion."

Politicians across the river in New Jersey don't seem so sure. New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez called for a federal investigation, and even Gov. Chris Christie, who prosecuted terrorism cases as a U.S. attorney, expressed concerns about the NYPD's tactics.

"The NYPD has at times developed a reputation of asking forgiveness rather than permission," the governor said at a town hall meeting this week.

According to Christie, the state attorney general is looking into whether the NYPD went beyond its jurisdiction in this case. But the NYPD says it did get permission from the director of Newark's police department. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne insists the department is complying with the law, including special federal guidelines for the NYPD that have been in place since the 1960s.

"Not only [are] we meeting existing constitutional requirements that exist everywhere in the country, but on top of that, additional requirements under an agreement here in New York," Browne says.

For all the back-and-forth this week, it's no secret that the NYPD has operated in New Jersey before. In 2010, an undercover agent in Jersey City helped arrest two would-be jihadists. And in New York City, where aggressive monitoring by the NYPD has been a fact of life for a decade, the revelations about New Jersey were mostly greeted with a shrug. At the Islamic Cultural Center of New York in Manhattan, Imam Omar Abu-Namous says he trusts the NYPD.

"This is their business," he says. "And I don't feel uncomfortable about their surveilling, for example, mosques and other Muslim places. Because the city is our city also, and the country is our country, so we are very keen that this country be safe and the city be safe."

But the department's tactics do bother Jawad Rasul, a member of the Muslim Student Association at the City College of New York. According to another NYPD document published this week by the AP, his student association was one of many across the Northeast that were infiltrated by undercover cops; an NYPD officer even accompanied Rasul's group on a whitewater rafting trip. According to Rasul, that kind of oversight is counterproductive.

"There are people who may be extremists," he says, "but then there is a large number of people who are not extremists at all. And these kinds of tactics can make them an extremist."

Still, that's one risk the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg have shown they're willing to take.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Ever since September 11, 2001, the New York City Police Department has aggressively gathered intelligence to prevent another terror attack. Now, those tactics are provoking controversy in New Jersey.

As NPR's Joel Rose reports, local officials were upset to learn the NYPD is monitoring Muslims well beyond the city limits.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Activists in New Jersey are outraged by what they see as an overly broad investigation into the lives of law-abiding Muslims.

Mohamed El Filali is with the Islamic Center of Passaic County. He spoke today at a press conference in Newark.

MOHAMED EL FILALI: It's unconstitutional, un-American. If there is a lead, by all means, I totally agree that there should be an investigation. There should be - the safety of our country comes first but not at the jeopardy of our civil liberties.

ROSE: Filali is reacting to a confidential 60-page NYPD report from 2007 that was published this week by The Associated Press. It contains detailed information on dozens of mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in Newark, which is just a few miles west of Manhattan. But on his weekly radio show today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the NYPD needs to collect this kind of intelligence in order to keep the city safe.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Everything the New York City Police Department has done is legal. It is appropriate. It is constitutional. They are permitted to travel beyond the borders of New York City for - to investigate cases. We don't target individuals based on race or religion.

ROSE: Politicians across the river in New Jersey don't seem so sure. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez called for a federal investigation. Even Governor Chris Christie, who prosecuted terror cases as a U.S. attorney, expressed concerns about the NYPD's tactics at a town hall meeting this week.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: The NYPD has at times developed a reputation of, you know, asking forgiveness rather than permission.

ROSE: Christie says the state attorney general is looking into whether the NYPD went beyond its jurisdiction in this case. But the NYPD says it did get permission from the director of Newark's police department. Spokesman Paul Browne insists the NYPD is complying with the law, including special federal guidelines for the department that have been in place since the 1960s.

PAUL BROWNE: Not only are we meeting existing constitutional requirements that exist everywhere in the country, but on top of that, additional requirements under an agreement here in New York.

ROSE: For all the back-and-forth this week, it's no secret that the NYPD has operated in New Jersey before. In 2010, an undercover agent in Jersey City helped arrest two would-be jihadists. And in New York City, where aggressive monitoring by the NYPD has been a fact of life for a decade, the revelations about New Jersey were mostly greeted with a shrug. At the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, Imam Omar Abu-Namous says he trusts the NYPD.

IMAM OMAR ABU-NAMOUS: This is their business, you know? And I don't feel uncomfortable, you know, about their surveilling mosques and other Muslim places because the city is our city also. We are very keen, you know, that this country be safe and the city be safe.

ROSE: But the department's tactics do bother Jawad Rasul. He's a member of the Muslim Student Association at City College of New York. According to another NYPD document published this week by the AP, his student association was one of many across the Northeast that were infiltrated by undercover cops. An NYPD officer even accompanied Rasul's group on a whitewater rafting trip. Rasul thinks that is counterproductive.

JAWAD RASUL: There are people who may be extremists. There's a large number of people who are not extremists at all, and this kind of tactics can make them an extremist.

ROSE: That's one risk the NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg have shown they're willing to take. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.