It was still several hours before Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly was to meet with Muslim leaders whom he had invited to Police Headquarters on Tuesday. But the meeting was already drawing criticism, underscoring how precarious the commissioner’s scattershot style of aggressively defending his department’s counterterrorism efforts could be.

The closed-door meeting between Mr. Kelly and a half-dozen Muslim leaders was only the latest example of his attempts to manage the imbroglio. It has centered on the Police Department’s surveillance of Muslim communities in New York City and beyond, in places like New Jersey and Long Island, as well as its tracking of the Web sites of Muslim student organizations at colleges across the Northeast.

Muslim community leaders — some who were invited to the hourlong meeting and some who were not — laced into Mr. Kelly’s efforts, particularly over what they saw as his ploy to sidestep controversy by selecting the participants and meeting privately.

But the meeting also reflected an overall strategy that has been evolving for three weeks, even before a new round of revelations about the department’s monitoring and mapping of Muslims was disclosed in the latest of a series of articles by The Associated Press.

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