Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy vowed at a meeting with a local Muslim leader Tuesday to confine his department's surveillance activities to those that pursue "criminal leads," and to avoid the type of widespread spying allegedly carried out by New York police.
The meeting, which was also attended by an area Jewish leader and an immigrants rights group official, followed an Associated Press report last week that showed the New York Police Department spied on Muslim neighborhoods in Newark when McCarthy led that city's police department. Ahmed Rehab, who heads the local office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, requested the meeting over concerns such an operation could happen in Chicago.
"We wanted assurances that, first, this would not happen in Chicago and, second, the he's opposed to ... community profiling and we got both," said Rehab.
The AP reported last week that in 2007, the NYPD's secretive Demographics Unit fanned out across Newark, photographing mosques and eavesdropping on Muslim businesses. Earlier, the AP reported that the department was conducting similar surveillance in New York, building databases showing where Muslims live, shop and pray.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vigorously defended the operations, saying that the police follow the allegations, and "look to see whether those allegations are true."
But critics argued that Muslims were targeted for surveillance for no other reason than they were Muslims, and not because they were suspected of any crimes.
After last week's story broke, McCarthy told the AP that the NYPD notified him as a courtesy that it was sending plainclothes officers into Newark, but he said Newark police officers didn't participate in the operation. On Tuesday, Rehab said that McCarthy characterized his department's involvement in the operation as "minimal and within the bounds of the law."
Rehab said he and the others at the meeting did not press McCarthy, and that they accepted McCarthy's explanation.
Josh Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said McCarthy made it clear that the department would not cast the kind of wide net as was done in New York and New Jersey, but would limit any surveillance to the pursuit of "criminal leads."
"He was very clear that there's a distinction between pursuing criminal leads to keep us all safe and spying on people because of their faith or ethnicity," said Hoyt. "And he was definitive that mass profiling because of religion and ethnicity was not going to happen in Chicago."
Jane Ramsey, the president of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, said she came away from the 90-minute meeting satisfied that "the kind of wholesale spying that has happened in New York does not appear to be his philosophy."
Rehab was concerned enough about the news stories last week that the spying had gone on in Newark in 2007 that he wrote a letter to McCarthy, asking for the superintendent to clarify his position on such spying. He said McCarthy immediately responded to set up a meeting.
McCarthy's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the meeting.