NEW YORK - The move by New York City's new police commissioner to disband a unit that spied on the everyday activities of Muslims could be just the first step in a dismantling of some of the huge post-9/11 intelligence-gathering machinery built by his predecessor.
Among other antiterror programs getting a hard look from Commissioner William Bratton is a unit that stations NYPD officers in foreign cities such as London, Paris, Tel Aviv, and Amman, Jordan. Also under review are the protocols for when and how to conduct surveillance in the hunt for terrorists.
Bratton, who has been in office for three months, was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and given a sweeping mandate to ease tensions between the 35,000-officer department and the city's minorities.
Over the last few years, Bratton's predecessor, Ray Kelly, and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended what has become the nation's largest intelligence-gathering, antiterror operation outside the federal government, saying the lack of any major attack on the city since 9/11, and the lowest overall crime rate in a generation, was proof it was working.
Bratton and his allies say the unit-by-unit review of the NYPD's intelligence and counterterrorism operations is necessary to eliminate possible inefficiencies, better deploy resources, and respond to criticism that the department has trampled on civil rights.
The review is expected to bring tighter restrictions on how the department gathers intelligence and to make it less secretive.
On Tuesday, the department confirmed the dismantling of the Demographics Unit, which sent plainclothes officers to mingle with Muslims in bookstores, restaurants, and mosques and listen for terrorist plots.
The program was the target of lawsuits and allegations that the department was violating Muslims' civil rights and sowing mistrust. A high-ranking NYPD official acknowledged in a deposition made public in 2012 that the unit's work had never generated a lead or triggered a terror investigation in six years.
Under Bratton, the department concluded the information collected by the unit could be better gathered through direct contact with community groups, officials said.