By Hannan Adely, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) –
HACKENSACK, N.J. — New Jersey’s law enforcement leaders have pledged to improve diversity training and expand recruitment in Muslim communities in an effort to strengthen ties with Muslims in the wake of a police surveillance scandal.
The steps were announced on Wednesday following a Newark, N.J., meeting of a new outreach committee formed to improve relations with Muslims and law enforcement.
A spokesman for New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said the committee could make membership changes in response to criticism that it wasn’t sufficiently diverse.
Some members of the new committee reacted with relief to the announcement that the surveillance program once operated by the New York Police Department had come to an end, news that was revealed last month in police testimony in a civil rights lawsuit and confirmed by New Jersey homeland security director Edward Dickson on Wednesday.
The attorney general announced the outreach committee in May, when he also unveiled results of a review that found the NYPD violated no state laws when it spied on Muslim mosques, businesses and schools.
Muslim leaders said Wednesday that they welcomed the effort to improve dialogue.
“We experienced disappointment, and rightfully so,” said Imam Mustafa El-Amin, of the Masjid Ibrahim in Newark. “Now there are steps being taken to prevent this from happening again.”
Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the attorney general, said plans will be made to improve diversity training for law enforcement officers, and to do recruitment among Muslim youth for law enforcement careers.
Imam Deen Shareef said a subcommittee will work with law enforcement to provide education about Islamic traditions and principles. Shareef said law enforcement should go beyond the committee and meet directly with people in the community, to talk about their work and to answer questions.
He hoped the efforts would help dispel negative notions about Muslims that he believes drove the NYPD to do surveillance in the first place.
“My hope is to change perceptions so that the mistakes of the NYPD won’t be repeated,” said Shareef, the convener of the Council of Imams in New Jersey and a plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD over spying allegations filed by the group Muslim Advocates.
The committee was criticized by two local leaders who said the participants didn’t fully represent the Muslim community. About 30 community leaders were contacted and asked to submit nominations, and some nominated themselves, Loriquet said.
The committee ended up with 10 Muslim leaders who represent different ethnicities and parts of the state, but nearly all are religious leaders and none are women.
Aref Assaf, who heads the American Arab Forum, noted that many Muslims don’t attend mosque and that no one with legal background was appointed. “There’s serious representation issues that we feel should be addressed,” Assaf said.
The outreach committee can determine its own representation moving forward, Loriquet said.
The committee also includes 10 law enforcement members, including Chiesa, Dickson and Rick Fuentes, head of the New Jersey State Police.
Officials at the committee meeting talked about changes implemented since May to improve information-sharing among law enforcement agencies, said people who were present. That includes a Chiesa directive requiring law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to notify higher-up agencies if they learn of out-of-state operations in their jurisdictions, and regular meetings with the NYPD.