As Los Angeles police shelved a plan to map Muslim enclaves in the city, law enforcement officials and terrorism experts on Thursday questioned whether the department's mishandling of the project had cost it a potentially useful tool in identifying extremists.
"Certainly they have clipped off an opportunity to get closer to their potential targets," said Ken Piernick, a retired senior counter-terrorism official with the FBI. "In this area, every little thing you do has the potential to be of assistance."
Brian Levin, a former New York Police Department officer who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, agreed.
"In the abstract," Levin said, "the data could have had some value."
But they and other experts cautioned that the ultimate value of the information in identifying Islamic extremists would have hinged on how the data were collected and on the collaboration among Arabs and Muslims in developing the project. And that, the experts said, was where the department's project unraveled.
Having endured six years of suspicion and controversial prosecutions around the U.S., America's Arab and Muslim communities are understandably sensitive to any new police initiative that might smack of racial or religious profiling, experts said.
"Data collection doesn't occur in a vacuum, and here it has come after a period of intense intimidation of Arabs and Muslim communities nationally," Levin said. "Intent is everything and perception is everything. And in this particular case, those factors clashed and obliterated any chance of a positive outcome." . . .
In a news conference after his two-hour meeting with Muslim American community leaders Thursday, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton declared the mapping plan was "DOA -- dead on arrival." He said he would be sending a letter to community leaders, mosques and Islamic social service agencies saying that no community policing proposal would go forward without their participation and support. . .
The diverse group of Muslim leaders who met with Bratton uniformly praised the LAPD for its quick response in dropping the controversial plan. They included both Shiite and Sunni Muslims and leaders of African, Iranian, Egyptian, Iraqi and Pakistani descent, among other ethnicities.
"It's a great relief to know we'll be treated like all citizens," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Greater Los Angeles office in Anaheim. " There are no second-class citizens in Los Angeles today." (MORE)