Last week we learned that the New York City Police Department’s unchecked Intelligence Division has labeled dozens of mosques within New York City as “terrorist enterprise investigations.” This allows the NYPD to classify tens of thousands of parishioners or any person who sets foot in these houses of worship as criminals. Despite the NYPD’s effort to place entire swathes of American Muslims, Arabs and South Asians under a shadow of suspicion, by the NYPD’s own admission, this dragnet has yielded no leads.
Yet, millions of New Yorkers’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars have been expended on this fruitless and damaging surveillance program. Today we call on the Comptroller to expand the audit of the Domain Awareness System he engaged earlier last month to include the Zone Assessment Unit (ZAU), the Debriefing Unit, and the Cyber Intelligence Unit. A comprehensive audit of these units, which are specifically charged with placing whole communities of Americans under surveillance without suspicion or justification, is necessary to determine the financial integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of the NYPD’s spying enterprise.
“Comptroller Liu took a step forward by engaging an audit of the Domain Awareness System of the NYPD, but the communities who have been subject to this chilling surveillance and the taxpayers footing the bill for it, need and deserve more comprehensive answers,” said Fahd Ahmad, Legal and Policy Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a community-based organization in Jackson Heights, New York. As with Stop and Frisk, the NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance Program criminalizes entire communities. Being Black, Latino, or Muslim should not make one a target for discriminatory policing. We commend the Comptroller’s initiation of an audit of the Domain Awareness System. However, we urge him to expand the audit to include the sections and divisions most involved in the Muslim Surveillance Program. “Since its inception, the NYPD’s costly Intelligence Division has functioned without any type of financial, operational or legal oversight,” said Nermeen Arastu of the CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) at CUNY School of Law. “These expensive programs have done nothing but alienate some of New York’s largest religious and ethnic communities, curtailing religious practice, censoring speech and hindering the ability of an entire generation of young people to participate in civic, political and academic activity.” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once stated, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” For more than a decade the NYPD Intelligence Division has not been audited. We believe it necessary for the sake of public accountability and the integrity of our Police Department that there to be an audit of the units, divisions and programs tasked with spying on our communities and neighbors on the basis of religion and without specific suspicion of wrongdoing.