The New York Police Department announced Monday a new initiative to recruit more Muslim police officers to the force, hoping their presence can help combat extremism and rebuild fractured trust between the city’s Muslims and local law enforcement.
According to the Associated Press, NYPD officials went public with the new effort the same day as the department’s pre-Ramadan conference, an annual event where officials gather with members of the local Muslim community to celebrate and ensure observers of the Muslim holy month that they will be treated with respect. The recruiting drive aims to add to the current cadre of Muslim officers, who account for 800 out of about 35,000 uniformed police, but only 20 of whom are higher-level administrators, according to the NYPD Muslim Officers Society.
“We are getting more and more recruits,” Lt. Adeel Rana, commanding officer of the community affairs immigration outreach unit, told the Associated Press. “And as they see people of their own religion in uniform, their eyes brighten.”
And as they see people of their own religion in uniform, their eyes brighten.
The new effort stands in stark contrast to the NYPD’s darker, less inclusive history of conducting intense surveillance on Muslim New Yorkers. In 2013, the Associated Press uncovered a controversial NYPD program which was established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and dubbed the “Demographics Unit.” The initiative sent undercover officers to mosques, Muslim student associations, and businesses frequented by Muslims to secretly observe the local population — even though the targets weren’t suspected of any wrongdoing. Police admitted the program never actually resulted in a lead, and eventually dropped the unit in April 2014 after enduring two federal lawsuits and a barrage of harsh public criticism.
But Commissioner William Bratton insisted on Monday that the NYPD has worked hard to rebuild relationships with the local Islamic community over the past year, and expressed hope that upping the number of Muslim officers could help strengthen fragile ties.
“We will not do anything to jeopardize that trust,” he said.
The recruitment blitz is also meant to bolster efforts to combat terrorism, although it’s not immediately clear how it relates to the Bratton’s aggressive new proposal to counter efforts by extremist organizations such as ISIS to enlist young Muslims in the city. The commissioner announced in May his desire to assign some 450 cops to combat the militant group’s efforts in the city, a move that struck some as excessive given that the department already has over 1,000 officers dedicated to counterterrorism initiatives.