x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Polls give different views of NYPD Muslim surveillance programme

A survey by Quinnipiac University showed most voters in the city believe police have acted appropriately towards Muslims, while another, broader poll by Baruch College found New Yorkers evenly divided.

NEW YORK // Two polls of New Yorkers offered conflicting views about the police department's gathering of intelligence on Muslims as it guards the city against another terrorist attack.

A survey by Quinnipiac University showed most voters in the city believe police have acted appropriately towards Muslims, while another, broader poll by Baruch College found New Yorkers evenly divided over whether the department should be focusing on Muslims.

Polling experts attributed the divergent findings to differences in wording and question order. Some of the same difficult questions have divided legal experts and politicians since the department's secret surveillance of Muslims was made public.

Carol Martin, a retired bookkeeper, said she is uncomfortable with the idea of putting people under surveillance with no evidence they are doing anything wrong, but considers it a necessary precaution.

"I don't think there's such a thing as fairness after 9/11," she said. "I don't know if it's right or wrong to do these things, but there's some credence behind it."

The police department conducted surveillance of Muslim communities by such means as infiltrating student groups, monitoring the online activity of college students, taking notes at mosques and eavesdropping at cafes and grocery stores.

Tuesday's Quinnipiac poll found that 58 per cent of voters surveyed believe the department has treated Muslims "appropriately", while 29 per cent think they have been treated "unfairly" and 13 per cent did not know or had no answer. Overall, 82 per cent believe police has been effective in its counterterrorism efforts.

"New Yorkers overwhelmingly think their police are going a good job of protecting against terrorism, and they don't believe they're picking on Muslims," said Maurice Carroll, the director of the university's polling institute.

The survey by Baruch College asked people if they "approve or disapprove of police focusing on Muslims". The question followed several queries about racial profiling and the NYPD's controversial practice of stopping and frisking people who are thought to be acting suspiciously.

The poll showed 44 per cent disapproved of the focus on Muslims, while 43 per cent approved. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Micheline Blum, director of Baruch College Survey Research, said the slightly more accusatory language in the Quinnipiac poll - asking people whether the department "unfairly targeted" Muslims - may have elicited a slightly different response than the Baruch poll.

The New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, have maintained that the department's actions are legal and necessary in a city under constant threat of another terrorist attack.

They say the city has been the target of 14 terrorist plots since September 11. However, some of the plots never got past the discussion stage.

Emilio Aguilar, 32, a delivery man in Manhattan, said he empathises with people who feel their privacy is being invaded, but also understands the pressure police are under to protect the city.

"I think they're doing what they have to do," Mr Aguilar said. "It's for the good of the country."