TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) — New York City's Police Department is facing mounting criticism of its secret surveillance of Muslims across the Northeast, with civil liberties groups demanding an investigation and New Jersey's governor accusing the NYPD of arrogantly acting as if "their jurisdiction is the world."
The intelligence-gathering was detailed recently in a series of stories by The Associated Press, which reported that police monitored mosques and Muslims around the metropolitan area and kept tabs on Muslim student groups at universities in upstate New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The department also sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip with college students.
The tactics have stirred debate over whether the NYPD is trampling on the civil rights of Muslims and illegally engaging in religious and ethnic profiling.
"They should be spending their time looking at the more specific behaviors that ought to draw their attention and make them investigate a person or a group. But simply gathering to pray or going on a whitewater rafting trip really shouldn't be a source of suspicion," Mary Catherine Roper, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said Thursday.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued that the NYPD's actions are legal and necessary in a city under constant threat of another terrorist attack like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and that police have the right to travel beyond the city limits to do their job.
His office had no comment on the latest criticism, and the NYPD didn't respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie accused the department of ignoring a key lesson of Sept. 11 by not sharing information with New Jersey law enforcement agencies when it conducted surveillance in Newark, New Jersey. Christie was U.S. attorney for New Jersey in 2007 when the intelligence-gathering occurred, and he said he doesn't recall being briefed.
"9/11 was not prevented because law enforcement agencies weren't talking to each other, they were being selfish, they were being provincial, they were being paranoid, they were being arrogant," Christie said. "I do not want to return to those days."
Christie said New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly wouldn't want to have to explain himself if something went wrong because of a lack of coordination.
During a radio program Wednesday night, Christie went even further, with some of his harshest criticism yet. He said he didn't know whether the surveillance program was "born out of arrogance, or out of paranoia, or out of both." He mocked Kelly as "all-knowing, all-seeing." And he said the NYPD had a "masters of the universe" mentality.
"They think that their jurisdiction is the world," he said. "Their jurisdiction is New York City."
The NYPD has said that it informed Newark officials about the intelligence operation and that Newark police were briefed before and after. New York officials said the NYPD officers were not making arrests or conducting searches in New Jersey, and were thus acting within their authority.
Christie did not take issue with the intelligence-gathering itself, instead faulting the NYPD for what he portrayed as a high-handed attitude and a lack of cooperation.
"I understand we need people doing covert surveillance to protect the people of our state and our region," the governor said. "No problems with that. My concern is, why can't you communicate with the people here in New Jersey, with law enforcement here in New Jersey? Are we somehow not trustworthy?"
Similarly, on Thursday, Christie would not weigh in on whether he thought Muslims' civil rights were violated, saying his attorney general is looking into that.
Christie's comments drew praise from Muslim leader Aref Assaf, head of the American Arab Forum, based in New Jersey.
"I'm so gratified. I'm honored to be a resident of the state of New Jersey under his leadership," Assaf said. "He doesn't mince words. He was unambiguous about the incursion of the NYPD into our state without proper protocols."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker did not address the spying during his state of the city address Thursday night, but talked about the situation with reporters afterward.
Booker said Muslims in Newark had expressed deep concerns about the spying to him. He said that revelations about the spying had caused "egregious harm to Muslins in Newark."
"People are saying they are afraid to pray in Mosques," Booker said. "They are afraid to eat in restaurants. A chill has been put on my community; the pain and the anguish is real.
"We are in a very difficult position in our city with the climate that has been created."
Booker said the city is developing new procedures in which he would be notified if a similar operation was being undertaken.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania, along with 20 other organizations, including Muslim student groups at the University of Pennsylvania, called on state authorities Thursday to investigate the surveillance. A spokesman for Pennsylvania's attorney general did not immediately return a message. The ACLU of Connecticut and nine other groups made a similar request in that state.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Justice Department said it is considering whether to open an investigation into the NYPD's surveillance efforts.