By Hugh Dellios
CHICAGO — For the first time in public, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy promised his department will never conduct blanket surveillance of Muslims like the New York Police Department did in Newark, N.J., when he was chief there.
McCarthy addressed hundreds of Muslims on Saturday at the annual banquet of the Council on American-Muslim Relations-Chicago, a civil rights organization. He said police would follow leads in criminal cases, but the department "does not and will not conduct blanket surveillance and profiling of any community in the city of Chicago."
"We are deeply committed to respecting the civil rights of all Chicagoans," McCarthy said.
McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have tried to reassure Chicago-area Muslims since The Associated Press revealed the NYPD's spying in Newark. The AP reported last month 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.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vigorously defended the operations, saying police only follow up on allegations. But civil rights advocates and other critics say the NYPD's 60-page report on the Newark operations showed Muslims were targeted for no other reason than they were Muslims, not because they were suspected of crimes.
McCarthy, who was also a top officer in the NYPD at one point, told the AP that his former colleagues in New York notified him as a courtesy that they were sending plainclothes officers into Newark but none of his Newark officers participated in the operation. But New York police say Newark leaders cooperated with the effort.
McCarthy met privately last week with community leaders to discuss the issue, but he hadn't stated publicly whether he supported the NYPD tactics.
He was warmly received at Saturday's banquet, held in a Chicago suburb. CAIR Executive Director Ahmed Rehab praised McCarthy for his "heartfelt" sincerity and taking the initiative to attend, and the audience applauded when the chief said police need to work with the city's communities to prevent crime and terrorism.
"We are focused on our mission of making Chicago the safest city for every resident in every neighborhood, but we can't do it alone," McCarthy said. "We must have a positive relationship with the wonderfully diverse communities that comprise Chicago and that make this great country of America as strong as it is today."
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat and immigration advocate, also addressed the group, lashing out at the NYPD's spying methods.
"It makes no sense and is not sensible law enforcement," Gutierrez said.
McCarthy wrapped up his remarks by saying he is a 9/11 survivor, who was in a command post near the World Trade Center until the towers fell. He told the audience that 13 of the 23 officers lost by the NYPD were personal friends.
"And I want to tell you this," he said. "In the 10-plus years since that horrific event, which has affected me to my core, I have never once thought ill of the religion of Islam."
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press