The de Blasio administration is shutting down the “zone assessment unit,” also known as the “demographic unit” that—thanks to a superb Associated Press investigation—became synonymous with the NYPD's snooping on Muslim New Yorkers under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
“Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair,” said a statement from the mayor. “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.”
But while the move had been hoped for by advocates, many say it's not enough.
“This is an important first step,” said the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “However, the damage of unconstitutional mass spying on people solely on the basis of their religion has already been carried out and must be addressed. We need to hear from the mayor and NYPD officials that the policy itself has been ended and that the department will no longer apply mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing to any faith-based community.”
Lawyers for Muslims who sued over the spying were similarly only half impressed.
“While we welcome the dismantling of the Demographics Unit as a long overdue step towards reining in the unconstitutional excesses of the NYPD, what has to stop is the practice of suspicion-less surveillance of Muslim communities, not just the unit assigned to do it,” read a statement from Muslim Advocates and Center for Constitutional Rights. “The Demographics Unit, as it was constituted, did a great deal of harm to Muslim communities in NY and NJ, and the city has conceded that it did not produce a single criminal lead. But nothing in the City’s announcement definitively suggests they will put an end to broad surveillance practices, which would continue to be illegal regardless of which department within the NYPD might be engaged in it.”