De Blasio Reserving Judgment on NYPD’s Muslim Informant-Seeking Program

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio with his pick for police commissioner, Bill Bratton. (Photo: Christopher Gregory/Getty)

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. (Photo: Christopher Gregory/Getty)

Mayor Bill de Blasio today said he would reserve judgment on an NYPD program that reportedly sends officers to comb city jails, trying to recruit immigrant, Muslim men to serve as confidential police informants.

“Well, I want to know more about it, and I’ll be speaking to Commissioner [Bill] Bratton about it,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer at an unrelated press conference today in Queens.

The New York Times reported this weekend on the “Citywide Debriefing Team,” a unit whose officers reportedly search the city’s prisoner lists for immigrant men and women who might prove useful as informants. Those who are targeted are often in custody for minor crimes and violations, and are asked about their religious practices, mosques and communities during the course of questioning, the paper reported.

While NYPD officials described the encounters as harmless conversations aimed at building relationships, some of the men who have been questioned have different interpretations, telling the Times they felt forced to cooperate.

“It’s not appropriate … They’re fishing. You’re in trouble with the law and they are the law,” one attempted recruit told the paper. “I don’t want to be a spy on anybody.”

But Mr. de Blasio today declined to judge the program, stressing his need for more information, and reiterated his administration’s commitment to establishing an appropriate “balance” between security and civil liberties.

“Look, I think the simple concept here–and it’s consistent with the way we’ve approached the surveillance issue, it’s consistent with the way we’ve approached the stop-and-frisk issue–is we’re focused on effective law enforcement, we’re focused on the fight against terror, but we’re also focused on healing the relationship between police and community and respecting constitutional rights,” he said. “So that’s a balance we seek in everything we do.”

“I’m going to learn more about how this is approached and see how it’s applied to different communities, and then we’ll have something to say about it. But I know that Commissioner Bratton shares my views on the need to strike that balance,” he added.  “I don’t conjecture based on a media report. I really want to hear directly from the commissioner.”

Mr. de Blasio and his police commissioner have already disbanded another controversial unit that was tasked with “mapping” the city’s Muslim communities and had been accused of spying.