Methods in use by the NYPD to monitor Muslims have come under fire as spy tactics, according to a report released yesterday by The Associated Press.
The NYPD — with support from the CIA — has quietly been dispatching undercover officers to monitor people shopping in Islamic bookstores, attending sermons at mosques across the city and even simply hanging out in hookah bars, the AP?reports.
These officers, nicknamed “mosque crawlers,” infiltrate Muslim and Middle Eastern neighborhoods, settling in to observe regardless of whether they received tips of terrorist plots there.
The CIA and FBI are prohibited from spying on American citizens and some say the NYPD is infringing on basic civil rights.
“If you’re sending an informant into a mosque when there is no evidence of wrongdoing, that’s a very high-risk thing to do,” Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, told the AP. She said the FBI never sends agents into mosques looking for leads. “You’re running right up against core constitutional rights. You’re talking about freedom of religion.”
In 2004, the City Council passed a law prohibiting the NYPD from using religion or ethnicity “as the determinative factor for initiating law enforcement action,” the AP wrote.
Some, however, are calling this a case of good police work. Councilman Peter Vallone, head of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, says cops use a “well-trained officer’s experience” in deciding where to investigate. After all, he adds, a police officer’s decision to monitor a bookstore or mosque is not illegal.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations yesterday asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s actions.
Tried it already in LA
In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department tried to start a similar program where police would comb Islamic neighborhoods, looking for pockets of extremism. But police chief William Bratton nixed the plan after massive public outcry. “A lot of these people came from countries where the police were the terrorists,” Bratton said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “We don’t do that here. We do not want to spread fear.”
Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro.