The New York Police Department has ended a program that sent plainclothes detectives into Muslim neighborhoods to eavesdrop and spy on individuals, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The unit, known to many as the Demographics Unit, would track where people ate, prayed and shopped, according to the Times. The police mapped neighborhoods and kept detailed files on where people in traditional Islamic clothing went both in and out of the city.
Through the program, the department aimed to identify spots where terrorists could blend in with other members of the community, according to the Times.
Civil rights groups have criticized the department’s surveillance practices, arguing that they created mistrust of law enforcement in Muslim communities.
“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York, told the Times. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”
The unit, created in 2003 during the Bloomberg administration, has been mostly inactive since William Bratton took over the NYPD as commissioner in January. The department decided to officially terminate the program in a meeting last week.
The NYPD has recognized that the unit did not gain any leads by spying on Muslim communities, and Bratton told the Times he hopes to gain back the trust of the Muslim community in New York.