AP IMPACT: NYPD had surveillance on US citizens based on ethnicity, not any possible crimes

The New York Police Department put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents describe in extraordinary detail a secret program intended to catalog life inside Muslim neighborhoods as people immigrated, got jobs, became citizens and started businesses. The documents undercut the NYPD’s claim that its officers only follow leads when investigating terrorism.

It was called the Moroccan Initiative. It started with one group, Moroccans, but the documents show police intended to build intelligence files on other ethnicities. U.S. citizens were among those subjected to surveillance. Current and former officials said the information collected by the Demographics Unit was kept on a computer inside the squad’s offices at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. It was not connected to the department’s central intelligence database, they said.

“A lot of these locations were innocent,” said an official involved in the effort, who, like many others interviewed by the AP, spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive police operations. “They just happened to be in the community.”

New York City law prohibits police from using race, religion or ethnicity as “the determinative factor” for any law enforcement action. Civil liberties advocates have said that guideline is so ambiguous it makes the law unenforceable. The NYPD has said intelligence officers do not use racial profiling or troll ethnic neighborhoods for information.