Thursday's announcement that the New York Police Department (NYPD) will settle a lawsuit filed by Muslim activist groups is unsettling and confounding. With Islamic terrorist acts on the rise globally and the FBI stating that it has as many as 900 open cases on individuals suspected of being ISIS operatives, it is beyond reason that NYPD would cave to the demands by a select group to impede investigations in potential terrorist cases.
The department was accused of singling out the Muslim community for surveillance and undercover operations in a post 9/11 world, as if that was some sort of abnormal behavior by law enforcement. The original suit, brought by several Islamist activist organizations, included the Muslim Students Association and the Muslim Foundation, accused the NYPD of violating their civil rights through a program which including surveillance and intelligence gathering of the Muslim community in New Jersey.
It was tossed by U.S. District Judge William J. Martini in February 2014. Then, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit last October.
Now, in an attempt to placate a small, though noisy group of complainers, Mayor Bill De Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton have acquiesced to demands that the police treat with kid gloves a select community. Why? What specifically did the department do in investigating radical Islamist threats that differed from other criminal investigations that led to this surrender by city officials? Nothing!
This decision by the mayor and the NYPD was made in the climate of political correctness rather than according to well-established law enforcement practices. Surveillance and undercover operations have long been effective tools in fighting crime. When police were investigating the Mafia and organized crime, for example, the Italian community was assessed, examined for structure and hierarchy and highly scrutinized.
Similarly, when Colombian drug cartels were investigated for cocaine distribution, the Hispanic community was the focal point. If Islamic terrorists use local mosques to further their plotting of heinous acts, as in the case of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, then why should the Muslim community be exempt or require special procedural protocols by the police before investigating?
The specifics of the surveillance and intelligence gathering program, which included community outreach, surveillance, and undercover operations was both lawful and effective. NYPD knew that many participants in the first World Trade Center attack and other plots frequented mosques in the greater New York / New Jersey area. That fact is indisputable.
As the former deputy inspector general of the New York State prisons' criminal intelligence division, I was assigned to work with the NYPD Intelligence Division from 2002-2005 in this program. I can confidently state that the program was neither biased nor harmful to individuals or organizations. Rather, it was a proactive protective service on behalf of the people of New York who had witnessed first-hand the atrocities of Islamic terrorists. It kept the city safe.
An exhaustive NYPD report, written by Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," is a necessary tutorial for all law enforcement organizations seeking to understand how an individual is moved to Islamic radicalization. The city's agreement to delete it from the department's website as part of the settlement is a blatant act of cowardliness.
Seeing the NYPD and city officials caving in to the demands of a few is most disheartening.
Perhaps the tool most needed in fighting radical Islamic terrorism in 2016 is going to be a backbone.
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