Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly gave an impassioned defense of the NYPD's controversial Muslim surveillance program Saturday — declaring it essential for the city's safety.

The tactics, which allegedly include spying on mosques, cafes and shops, have come under fire from Muslim and civil rights groups, but Kelly said the Police Department's strategy has been "misrepresented."

"For some, the very act of intelligence gathering seems illegitimate when applied to the crime of terrorism," Kelly said in his most wide-ranging remarks to date on the hot-button topic.

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