The LAPD's plan to map Muslim communities in an effort to identify potential hotbeds of extremism departs from the way law enforcement has dealt with local anti-terrorism since 9/11 and prompted widespread skepticism Friday.
In a document reviewed Friday by The Times, the LAPD's Los Angeles Police Department's counter-terrorism bureau proposed using U.S. census data and other demographic information to pinpoint various Muslim communities and then reach out to them through social service agencies.
LAPD officials said that it is crucial for them to gain a better understanding of isolated parts of the Muslim community. Those groups can potentially breed violent extremism, the LAPD said in its plan.
"This is not . . . targeting or profiling," Police Chief William J. Bratton said Friday in defending the program. "It is an effort to understand communities," he said.
But the effort sparked an outcry from civil libertarians and some Muslim activists, who compared the program to religious profiling.
Others noted that the effort faces enormous practical difficulties. The U.S. Census Bureau is barred by law from asking people for their religious affiliation. As a result, there is no scientific data on the size of the nation's Muslim population, let alone its location, with estimates of the population nationwide ranging from about 1.4 million adults in a Pew Research Center study this year to the 7 million or more claimed by some community organizations.
Census data on ancestry also would not yield accurate Muslim estimates, because significant numbers of ethnic Iranians are Jewish and many ethnic Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians are Christians.
"It's not realistic to think you are going to be able to find out where all the Muslims are," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim said the LAPD project seemed based on the European experience of isolated and often-distressed Muslim enclaves -- a model that doesn't apply to the United States, where the Muslim population is far more dispersed. (MORE)