New York City's police commissioner, William Bratton, made the right decision last month when he said he would disband a unit used by his predecessor, Raymond Kelly, to spy on law-abiding Muslims as they worshiped or patronized businesses in their communities. Beyond proving useless for intelligence purposes, the Demographics Unit undermined the fight against terrorism by alienating Muslims who were understandably angry about being singled out, not for illegal conduct but because of their religious affiliation.
This problem has yet to be fully resolved. As The Times's Joseph Goldstein reported, the department is still running a program that singles out Muslims in a problematic way, this time to recruit them as informants. The department says the program, run by a squad of detectives euphemistically known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, has led to breaks in important cases. But the department has a long history of trampling on people's rights during investigations of political activity, while making inflated claims about the value of its intelligence operations.