NEW YORK CITY — The NYPD disbanded a controversial intelligence unit tasked with monitoring and gathering information on the city's Muslim community, the mayor's office announced Tuesday.
The Demographics Unit, later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit, employed undercover officers, referred to as "rakers," to collect intelligence with the hope of thwarting another terrorist attack, according to an Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press investigation.
Special informants, called "mosque crawlers" were cultivated to monitor people frequenting the city's mosques, bookshops and cafes in Muslim neighborhoods — even when no criminality was suspected, the wire service reported.
Police officials originally denied the program existed, but then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg later defended it as crucial to the city's safety.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had promised to discontinue the practice while he was running for the office.
“Our administration has promised the people of New York a police force that keeps our city safe, but that is also respectful and fair," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. "This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”
In a statement, police said that the unit had been inactive since January and detectives had been reassigned to other areas in the department.
“Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis,” Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Stephen Davis told The New York Times, which first reported the news. “In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve.”