NEW YORK – The New York Police Department's top official reiterated his defense Monday of the department's aggressive intelligence-gathering operations, saying there's no need to apologize for keeping tabs on some Muslims if that's what it takes to protect the city.
"Not everybody is going to be happy with everything the police department does, that's the nature of our business," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "But our primary mission, our primary goal, is to keep this city safe, to save lives. That's what we're engaged in doing."
Kelly's comments to reporters Monday were the latest in a recent string of public statements in response to reports by The Associated Press about the NYPD's surveillance on Muslims across the Northeast following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On a radio show on WOR, Kelly said some local politicians and potential candidates to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg who have criticized the counterterrorism efforts were pandering because of the upcoming election season.
In a newspaper column in the New York Daily News, Kelly said the criticism was a knee-jerk reaction by some New Jersey lawmakers to news that the NYPD had done surveillance in Newark.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Newark Mayor Cory Booker were wrong to question the department, he said. The elected officials were responding to the recent disclosure that officers devoted several months in 2007 to surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey's largest city. The result was a 60-page guide to Newark's Muslims, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Kelly said he had no plans to apologize. Christie has called the report "disturbing" and his spokesman said Monday he had nothing to add. A spokeswoman for Booker said he wasn't available for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for Menendez did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Both have called for investigations into the department's actions.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he didn't see any reason to second-guess the NYPD's methods. He was responding in Albany to a letter sent by a civil rights group demanding a meeting to discuss the attorney general's decision not to investigate the department.
"I don't believe there is any reason to second-guess the attorney general," Cuomo said.
Bloomberg already has given strong public support for the police department's efforts. And a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed many New Yorkers approved of the NYPD.
Kelly was echoing Bloomberg's stance. Last week, the NYPD took the unusual step of holding an hour-long briefing for reporters during which department and city lawyers spelled out the legal guidelines they say allows monitoring of mosques and other locations within the city and elsewhere.
"The mayor is committed, I'm certainly committed to doing what we have to do, certainly as long as we're doing it pursuant to the law," Kelly said. "We're going to continue to vet and examine all of these strategies tactics that we use to keep this city safe."
His comments Monday came in the wake of the anniversary of the first attack on the World Trade Center, on Feb. 26, 1993. Then, the bombers came from New Jersey in a van full of explosives, parked it in a garage and detonated it. Kelly said it would be wrong to focus only on the city's five boroughs.
"It should've been a major wakeup call for the country and the city. It wasn't," Kelly said. "It was sort of written off as a being an inept group of individuals, it wasn't seen to be tied to an international movement. We paid the price."
He said he's doing everything he can — under the law — to make certain nothing like the 1993 bombing or the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by members of radical Islamist al-Qaida. Since then, have been at 14 other failed terrorist plots in the city.
The poll earlier this month found 60 percent of New York City voters believe police are "appropriately" dealing with Muslims, while 24 percent say police have unfairly targeted this group. Overall, 77 percent of New York City voters say police effectively combat terrorism. The poll questioned 1,222 voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
Associated Press writers Tom Hays in New York City, Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y., Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J., and Samantha Henry in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.