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Law enforcement, area Muslims discuss NYPD surveillance

Mike Desmond/WBFO

Area law enforcers say they don't know much about why the New York Police Department had officers from its intelligence unit prowling locally and on the University at Buffalo campus.

The revelation created paranoia among Muslims at UB and questions among police officers here about what they were looking for and where they went.  A group of local officers appeared Tuesday night at a public meeting sponsored by the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York at the university to talk about civil rights issues.

Officers say nothing is known to the local Joint Terrorism Task Force to explain what the New York officers were looking into, although there were references to gangs and Somalis. They said they don't investigate without suspicion and don't simply build files on people.

Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti says he doesn't know if the officers were in his county or what they were looking for. Filicetti says like the UB police, his sheriff's department has an officer on the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

"They only time that they're conducting any surveillances is based on suspicion. It's not just random. We're unaware of what the extent of the NYPD's operations were here," saud Filicetti.

Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard says in the past, his department has cooperated with the NYPD if asked questions, but he says doesn't keep records on suspicions because of legal rulings going back to the 1960s.

"Since that time it has always been my opinion that law enforcement agencies do not gather of maintain intelligence files on individuals. It's unlawful to do that, to keep intelligence files on individuals not known to be involved in criminal activity and, to my knowledge, the Erie County Sheriff's Office does not," Howard said.

Muslim Student Association President Sunny Jamil says students became worried in the wake of revelations of the police probe.

"People felt a little paranoid of who their friends were and who should be trusted as a friend or who should be trusted as an acquaintance," said Jamil.

There is a federal Justice Department probe of the actions of a police intelligence unit. Even U.S. Attorney William Hochul says he is not clear what New York detectives were doing here and says he is waiting for the results of the probe to find out what happened.

The NYPD was invited to attend the meeting, but no one at the session admitted to being with the department.


Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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