Police Commissioner William Bratton Wednesday vowed a deeper level of "community collaboration" to ferret out homegrown terrorists while respecting civil liberties.
Bratton spoke to an auditorium filled with Muslim community and religious leaders Wednesday at the NYPD's annual Pre-Ramadan Conference at police headquarters in Manhattan. Such meetings began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in hopes of fostering better community relations with Muslims, police said.
Since 9/11, Muslims have been subjected to intense police scrutiny, infiltrations and terrorism investigations that have resulted in federal lawsuits alleging police discrimination and bias. The NYPD recently said it had disbanded its Muslim surveillance unit.
"We are here to celebrate with you your most holy time," Bratton said. "This is a time of self-reflection and connection with God . . . safety and security are the best blessings, where faith flourishes."
Several hundred imams and neighborhood leaders applauded Bratton's comments. But in a question-and-answer session, several sought assurances that Muslims at mosques would not be targets of police investigations.
"We want to weed out the bad eggs, but don't recruit some of our members for spying," said Imam Adebole Sanusi of Masjid Rahmatillah in Staten Island. "We are peace-loving people. I always tell my people to tell me if there is something wrong. I will be the first to tell the police. We don't need informants."
Mustapha Senghor, chairman of the Harlem Islamic Cultural Center, agreed. "We need trust," he said. "We suffer enough at the airports, the highways. We are some of your best citizens. We are not alcoholics that drive cars, and when the drug dealers and pushers see us they run away. We make your life easier."
Bratton disbanded the department's demographics unit in April. It had assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and cataloged Muslims who adopted Americanized surnames.
The two federal civil-rights lawsuits were filed after the unit was uncovered by reporters. A police official testified in 2012 that the unit's work over six years had never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.
Bratton said he has concerns about young Muslim men -- "lone wolves" -- who may sympathize with terrorists and go to countries such as Syria to be trained "and use that training to carry out act of terrorism here. This cannot go unanswered."
Bratton said there will be a police presence at mosques during Ramadan, which begins June 29 and ends on July 28.