The Demographics Unit at the NYPD later referred to as the Zone Assessment Unit was originally developed with help from the CIA following the attacks on September 11, 2001.
The unit acknowledged it engaged in the monitoring of businesses that were Muslim-owned and mosques throughout the New York City region. It has been hit with civil lawsuits and much controversy.
A spokesperson for the NYPD said the Zone Assessment Unit, which had previously been called the demographics unit has for the most part been inactive since this past January.
The department said that personnel that had been assigned to the unit were now reassigned to new duties within the department’s Intelligence Bureau.
The NYPD statement said that understanding certain demographics is used to factor in when assessing the information regarding potential threats, but it was determined that a great deal of the same data previously gathered by members of the Zone Assessment Unit could be obtained through outreach directly by the department to the communities concerned.
Two of the advocacy groups that have lawsuits against the unit for its activities have said they are happy the unit was disbanded, but want the NYPD to ensure the surveillance has stopped.
One of the lawsuits filed against the unit was dismissed this past February and is under appeal.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations’ chapter in New York said the NYPD announcement was a first step, but the damage of mass spying that is unconstitutional because it solely is done on the basis of religion, had already taken place and most by addressed, said Ryan Mahoney, the Board President.
The NYPD’s decision is a sign that under new a new mayor and police commissioner there will be changes. Bill de Blasio is now the mayor while William Bratton is the Police Commissioner.
This week, de Blasio said through a prepared statement that the administration promised to keep the city safe, but it must also be fair and respectful. The mayor’s statement continued by saying the reform of the police program was a critical step in easing the tensions between the NYPD and the communities the department is serving.
In the 1990s, Bratton was the police commissioner and took the helm again of the largest police department on the country this past December.