After facing two years of criticism for spying on the Muslim community in the greater New York City area for no reason other than their religious affiliation, the New York Police Department (NYPD) announced this week that it had ended its controversial surveillance programme.
In a statement, the NYPD said that the Zone Assessment Unit, previously known as the 'Demographics Unit', had been "largely inactive" since January and that personnel had now been reassigned to other duties within police intelligence.
The statement added, "It has been determined that much of the same information previously gathered by the Zone Assessment Unit may be obtained through direct outreach by the NYPD to the communities concerned."
This follows the election of Bill de Blasio, who assumed office in January as the city’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years, who was said to have "welcomed the move".
In June 2012, residents in the New York-New Jersey region filed a lawsuit against the NYPD after documents leaked to The Associated Press revealed an aggressive police surveillance programme targeting the city's Muslim community, involving monitoring and collection data on Muslims at 250 mosques, schools, and businesses, "simply because of their religion and not because they exhibited suspicious behaviour".
"They show in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion, despite claims from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the contrary," The AP said of the documents.
Soon the NYPD found itself in the dock after a top Obama administration official, Attorney General Eric Holder, joined the chorus of disapprobation and said at a Congressional hearing that he found news of the NYPD's actions "disturbing".
The issue was aggravated by the fact that Mr. Bloomberg and police Commissioner Ray Kelly reportedly defended the NYPD's aggressive programmes to infiltrate Muslim neighbourhoods.