The NYPD's Zone Assessment Unit is no more. According to Matt Apuzzo and Joe Goldstein, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has disbanded the task force that secretly catalogued the movements and activities of countless innocent citizens who practiced Islam in New York.
The Demographics Unit, as it was known before a series of AP articles exposed its activities, was vehemently defended by previous NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, even though it never produced a single piece of actionable intelligence. Demographics officers would catalogue what was playing on TVs in Muslim-owned coffee shops or where Moroccans liked to get their hair cut, and they recruited people to spy on their Muslim friends and neighbors.
Current NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis told the Times that this sort of information may still be collected, but there wouldn't be a staff of officers working to collect it in secret:
“Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis,” Mr. Davis said. “In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.”
Bratton reportedly met with Muslim community leaders last week to discuss the changes.
“This is the first time we’ve felt that comfort sitting with them,” said Ahmad Jaber, who resigned from the Police Department’s Muslim advisory board last year to protest the surveillance tactics. “It’s a new administration, and they are willing to sit with the community and listen to their concerns.”
Martin Stolar, a civil rights attorney who has worked on a police surveillance case for more than 40 years, said he's not entirely satisfied by the news:
“I want them to say that they’re getting rid of not just the unit, but the kind of policing that the unit did,” Mr. Stolar said. “Is it still going to be blanket surveillance of where Muslims hang out? Are they going to stop this massive surveillance?”
Mayor de Blasio released this statement:
Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair. 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.
You can read our lengthy interview with the two Pulitzer Prize winning AP reporters who uncovered the Demographics Unit here.