By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police mishandling of a controversy surrounding a video offensive to Muslims has enveloped New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly just as he was restoring the department's strained relations with the religious minority.
Muslim civil rights groups demanded Kelly's resignation on Wednesday following revelations the department screened the provocative video for police officers many more times than previously acknowledged.
Kelly also said he regretted cooperating with the makers of "The Third Jihad: Radical Islam's Vision for America," which shows footage of suicide attacks and says "the true agenda of much of Muslim leadership here in America" is to "infiltrate and dominate America."
Kelly, politically joined at the hip with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has navigated difficult times with Muslims, having come into office shortly after the September 11 attacks of 2001, which led to an unprecedented security crackdown that drew the ire of civil libertarians.
Kelly and Bloomberg have also won praise for prosecuting hate crimes against Muslims and defending the right to build a mosque near the site of the September 11 attacks. But there have been periods of tension, more recently over the department's role in secret operations at New York area mosques.
"Somebody exercised some terrible judgment," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the film. "As soon as they found out about it, they stopped it."
The video was screened for more than 1,400 officers over a period of months, the New York Times reported on Tuesday based on documents obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. When the Village Voice first reported on the film a year ago, police said it had been screened only a few times.
In addition, police now admit a spokesman helped arrange an interview the filmmakers did with Kelly that appeared in the film. Previously, police said Kelly was not involved in the making of the film and that the interview was taken from an archive.
Kelly's spokesman Paul Browne said he was approached in 2007 by Erik Werth, a reporter and former policy advisor under President Bill Clinton, to interview Kelly about "foiled terrorist plots and the current threat matrix" for a video Werth was making for cable TV.
Browne on Wednesday said the commissioner finds the finished product "objectionable" and regrets taking part.
Werth was listed as a co-producer and co-director of the video. Raphael Shore, founder of conservative Clarion Fund, was also a producer. Wayne Kopping was the director and editor. The filmmakers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"The Third Jihad" ran on continuous loop on a TV in a Brooklyn police location that officers used to fill in paperwork during down time, Browne said. He said the film was not used in training sessions and was never shown at the Police Academy.
"As soon as an officer complained about it, it was removed. A sergeant who obtained it and put it on the TV loop was reprimanded for its unauthorized use," Browne said.
But in a statement, Nihad Awad, national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said Kelly had disqualified himself to head the nation's largest and most prominent police force.
"As leaders of the nation's largest police department, Commissioner Kelly and Deputy Commissioner Browne's actions set a tone for relations with law enforcement that impact American Muslims nationwide," Awad said. "It's time for change."
CAIR, the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and other civil liberties groups set a news conference for Thursday at New York City Hall.
In August CAIR called for a federal investigation and Senate hearings into a report the CIA was helping New York City police gather intelligence from mosques and minority neighborhoods.
A report by the Associated Press said undercover New York Police Department officers known as "rakers" were sent into minority neighborhoods to monitor bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs, and police used informants known as "mosque crawlers" to monitor sermons.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta)