NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The New York Police Department's clandestine surveillance of Muslims has damaged the public's trust in New Jersey law enforcement and jeopardized some of the relationships agents had sought to build in the community since Sept. 11, the head of the FBI in New Jersey said Wednesday.
Michael Ward, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Newark Division, emphasized, however, that his agency has an overall good working relationship with the NYPD. He said two NYPD investigators had been assigned to the New Jersey-based Joint Terrorism Task Force for years and operated under clear guidelines and engaged in regular interagency briefings.
Ward said he learned about some of the activities conducted by a different NYPD intelligence division through a series of reports by The Associated Press detailing the department's secret surveillance of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and college campuses across the Northeast. He said it was those types of activities that risk undermining a key aspect of law enforcement: the ability to enlist the trust and cooperation of the public.
"What we're seeing now with the uproar that's occurring in New Jersey, is that we're starting to see cooperation pulled back," Ward said. "People are concerned that they're being followed, they're concerned that they can't trust law enforcement and it's having a negative impact. When people pull back cooperation it creates additional risks, it creates blind spots, it hinders our ability to have our finger on the pulse of what's going on around the state, and thus, it causes problems and makes the job of the Joint Terrorism Task Force much, much harder."
Ward told reporters he was aware that officers from the NYPD's intelligence division were working in the state, adding that it was known to most New Jersey law enforcement officials who work on counterterrorism issues. But Ward said that although he met with NYPD intelligence officials on a bimonthly basis, he wasn't briefed on the extent of the NYPD's operations outside the task force.
"The key point is we don't have awareness of everything that NYPD intelligence does in New Jersey. We have meetings with them, we get together with them almost twice a month in which we share information, but we don't have insight into what they are doing. They bring information forward that they think is worthy of sharing and we're kind of at the mercy of what they decide to tell us and when they decide to tell us."
Muslim leaders in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and elsewhere have requested investigations into the NYPD's activities.