By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Police Department said on Thursday it had not broken any laws by conducting a surveillance operation targeting Muslims in neighboring New Jersey's largest city of Newark.
New York police documented "locations of concern" in Newark including dozens of mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and Islamic schools during a 2007 surveillance operation, according to a confidential report obtained by local media.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he was concerned by reports of the surveillance operation, while Newark Mayor Cory Booker described it as "deeply disturbing" and called on the state Attorney General to investigate the possible infringement of civil liberties by New York police.
"There has been a suggestion that what we are doing doesn't comport with legal requirements and that's not the case," New York police spokesman Paul Browne told reporters on Thursday. "Everything we're doing is done constitutionally."
"Newark police officials were aware and were briefed before and afterwards and a Newark police liaison accompanied NYPD personnel," he said in response to a statement by Booker that Newark police were not involved.
New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has navigated difficult times with Muslims, having come into office shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, which led to an unprecedented security crackdown that drew the ire of civil libertarians.
Kelly and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have since won praise for prosecuting hate crimes against Muslims and defending the right to build a mosque near the September 11 attack site.
But there has been tension, more recently over Kelly's involvement in a controversial video that was then repeatedly screened to hundreds of New York police officers and over the department's secret operations at New York area mosques.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger newspaper said the New York police surveillance of Muslims in Newark had made an "insidious" accomplishment of "yet another betrayal for an entire population of American citizens, targeted for their faith."
Peter Farrell, senior counsel of the New York City Law Department told reporters on Thursday at a briefing organized by the police department that "there is no constitutional prohibition against a police department collecting information."
"What's unconstitutional is if they then use that information to chill someone's First Amendment rights or to impose harm," he said.
(Editing by Dan Burns)