NEWARK, N.J. — The New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims has damaged the public’s trust in New Jersey law enforcement and jeopardized some of the relationships agents had sought to build in the community since Sept. 11, the head of the FBI in New Jersey said Wednesday.
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Michael Ward, agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark division, said that Muslims have become less cooperative in investigations, which “creates additional risks, it creates blind spots.”
“It hinders our ability to have our finger on the pulse of what’s going on around the state, and thus it causes problems and makes the job of the Joint Terrorism Task force much, much harder,” Ward said at a news conference.
Ward said he knew less about the NYPD’s intelligence division operations in the state, which he said he’s not fully briefed on, and which have come under criticism after a series of reports by The Associated Press detailing the department’s monitoring of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and college campuses across the Northeast. Ward said it was those types of activities that risk undermining a key aspect of law enforcement: the ability to enlist the trust and cooperation of the public.
“We’re starting to see cooperation pulled back,” Ward said. “People are concerned that they’re being followed, they’re concerned that they can’t trust law enforcement and it’s having a negative impact.”
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne criticized Ward’s comments, pointing to several cases that his department had worked in conjunction with New Jersey law enforcement on, such as the arrest of Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Eduardo Almonte, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to join an al-Qaida-affiliated group
“The NYPD has established strong ongoing relations in the Muslim community, and our intelligence gathering has led to the capture of the radical converts Almonte and Alessa in New Jersey” and cited several other terror cases.
Ward also cited the Almonte and Alessa cases Wednesday as an example of the positive relationship he said his agency has long had with the NYPD, but said his concerns were that not knowing the scope of the NYPD intelligence division’s activities in New Jersey could undermine the work of the task force.
“One of the issues is when you have someone that’s conducting a unilateral investigation and it’s not being coordinated with the JTTF, you run the risk of missing something, of not connecting the dots,” Ward said. “I don’t know anyone who works in counter-terrorism who doesn’t think information sharing could be better or could be faster.”
The escalating war of words between law enforcement officials and politicians on both sides of the Hudson River is one that Ward said has undermined the public’s trust in New Jersey law enforcement agencies, especially among Muslims.
“That’s a problem; these are people that are our friends;” Ward said, speaking of New Jersey Muslim leaders who have been telling him their reluctant to trust law enforcement because of the allegations against the NYPD. “These are people that have embraced law enforcement, embraced the mission that we have in counter-terrorism, and you can see that the relationships are strained.”
Ward told reporters he was aware that officers from the NYPD’s intelligence division were working in the state, adding that it was known to most New Jersey law enforcement officials who work on counterterrorism issues. But Ward said that although he met with NYPD intelligence officials on a bimonthly basis, he wasn’t briefed on the extent of the NYPD’s operations outside the task force.
“The key point is we don’t have awareness of everything that NYPD intelligence does in New Jersey. We have meetings with them, we get together with them almost twice a month in which we share information, but we don’t have insight into what they are doing. They bring information forward that they think is worthy of sharing and we’re kind of at the mercy of what they decide to tell us and when they decide to tell us.”
Muslim leaders in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and elsewhere have requested investigations into the NYPD’s activities.