NEWARK, New Jersey – New Jersey's state attorney general assured a group of Muslim leaders Wednesday that a New York City police unit that conducted surveillance of Muslim businesses, religious leaders and student groups was no longer operating in New Jersey.
Jeffrey Chiesa made the remarks during the first meeting of an outreach committee he formed to repair relations between law enforcement and Muslims in the wake of the revelations about the New York Police Department's surveillance tactics.
Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the attorney general, confirmed that Chiesa said during the closed door meeting that the NYPD's Demographics Unit was no longer working in New Jersey. Loriquet added that Chiesa felt the meeting was productive and that the attorney general "wanted to make sure that all the people of New Jersey's rights are protected and respected."
Chiesa told the group Wednesday that he stood by his findings -- announced in May following a three-month review -- that the NYPD had not violated any New Jersey laws in conducting the surveillance.
The NYPD had operated secretly in New Jersey neighborhoods where Muslims lived and worked, spied on Muslim neighborhoods and organizations, infiltrated Muslim student groups and videotaped mosque-goers. The activities, revealed in a series by The Associated Press, angered many Muslims and New Jersey officials and resulted in a federal lawsuit against the NYPD.
NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who has vigorously defended the department's spying on Muslims as vital to the city's safety, said Wednesday he wasn't aware of the New Jersey meeting. An NYPD spokesman, Paul Browne, said the department is "continuing and will continue to follow leads wherever they take us, including out-of-state."
Muslim leaders who attended Wednesday's meeting said it was a good first step.
"The discussion I think is laying a foundation for us to move forward, an opportunity for us to build, or rebuild, more communication, more cooperation, and hopefully improving the trust between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies," said Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef of Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington, who is a plaintiff in the federal suit against the NYPD.
The outreach committee included Muslim leaders from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the state and top New Jersey law enforcement officials, including the head of the state police and New Jersey's director of Homeland Security. They discussed ways to increase recruitment of Muslims by law enforcement agencies and the possibility of having Muslim leaders conduct sensitivity training for New Jersey law enforcement officials.
Chiesa told the group that relations between the NYPD and New Jersey law enforcement had improved in recent months, largely due to monthly meetings and increased transparency between the agencies.
In May, he told a group that included many of the same leaders at Wednesday's meeting that the NYPD had assured New Jersey officials that they only operated in the state while following legitimate leads.
But in a recent deposition as part of a longstanding federal civil rights case, NYPD department officials testified that that in more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the Demographics Unit had never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation. NYPD Intelligence Division documents prepared in 2006 by Deputy Inspector Steve D'Ulisse detailed the role of the Demographics Unit. The documents were leaked to the AP after Browne denied the unit ever existed.
Besides the Demographics Unit, the NYPD also operated a secret safe house in New Jersey as a base of operations to spy on Muslims without telling local and federal authorities. Federal authorities raided the apartment in 2009, embarrassing the NYPD.