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Commish takes a Christmas walk

December 23, 2002

On the night before Christmas, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly decided to stroll down Fifth Avenue.

Over the past seven years, the Christmas Eve stroll had become something of a tradition [at least with One Police Plaza Confidential]. In 1995, Bill Bratton walked down Fifth Avenue with his sidekick, Jack Maple, to see how many New Yorkers recognized them.

Howard Safir tried to follow in Bratton's footsteps [with a dozen bodyguards beside him] but cut short his walk because nobody knew who he was.

Kelly's predecessor, Bernard Kerik, had walked the walk with his sidekick, John Picciano, but the two disappeared around 44th Street and ended up in a strip club west of Times Square.

Now Kelly, wearing a charcoal gray suit and trademark red power tie, walked slowly past the Plaza as a plainclothes officer followed at a discreet distance. Kelly was scratching his head. Something was obviously bothering him. Although the department had fewer cops and less money than in the past, crime kept going down. Kelly wasn't certain why.

Outside Bergdorf's, he heard a noise overhead. A Black Hawk helicopter the department kept in a hidden hangar at Floyd Bennett Field landed on the sidewalk in front of him. Out popped Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Merry Christmas, Ray. Congratulations on the decrease in crime," Bloomberg said. "Come with me. I've got a surprise for you."

Kelly jumped into the helicopter, still scratching his head. Bloomberg - at the controls - swooped up into the night. Minutes later they landed at a deserted airfield. A small jet sat on the runway.

"C'mon, Ray," Bloomberg shouted as they climbed aboard the jet.

There, waiting for Kelly, was deputy commissioner for intelligence David [007] Cohen.

"Merry Christmas, commissioner," he said. "Congratulations on the crime decrease."

Kelly gave him a wry smile.

"Let's go, boys," shouted Bloomberg, taking the controls and lifting off.

"Where are we going?" Kelly whispered to Cohen.

"Top secret," Cohen replied.

A few hours later they touched down in Lyons, France, where the NYPD's first overseas terrorism detective awaited them.

"Merry Christmas, commissioner," he said to Kelly. "Congratulations on the crime drop."

Kelly shook his head. Sensitive about his image, he wondered whether the crime drop was a terrorist plot to lure him into a sense of false security.

While he pondered, Bloomberg shouted: "OK, boys. We have other stops to make."

They lifted off again.

A few hours later, they arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, known as Gitmo. There, a contingent of NYPD detectives was debriefing captured al-Qaida prisoners. They were all on the runway awaiting him.

"Merry Christmas, commissioner," they said in unison. "Great job on crime."

Now Kelly was certain something was afoot. Could this Christmas Eve trip be Cohen's way of sending him a coded message about crime and terrorism?

"OK, we have one more stop to make," shouted Mayor Mike. "C'mon, boys."

Off they flew again.

Unfortunately, as dawn broke, they encountered engine trouble - and were forced to land in Mexico City. There, in the passenger lounge, were Rudolph Giuliani and Judi Nathan. They were seated at a table, surrounded by a 16-man police detail. They were counting pesos from Giuliani's $4.3 million contract for training the Mexico City police.

More than ever now, Kelly felt he had to figure out why crime had dropped. Otherwise, Giuliani would claim the decrease was due to measures he had instituted eight years earlier.

There was a commotion. A man dressed as Santa Claus and a second man, lugging a suitcase, approached Giuliani. Kelly recognized the second man as corrections captain Eddie Aswad, who was paid more than $100,000-a-year in overtime as a bodyguard for Kerik and was now claiming he had tripped over some cartons and was seeking a tax-free disability pension.

Suddenly Kelly suspected why crime had to have fallen. It was all due to his anti-corruption efforts - his forcing the cancellation of the Finest Foundation dinner at the Pierre hotel, his warning to the Centurion Foundation about their honorary plaques and badges. Next, he would investigate Aswad's pension.

He wondered whether the suitcase was filled with loot and whether Aswad, acting in concert with Santa Claus, would offer it to Giuliani to grease the skids for his pension.

But Kelly was wrong. Instead, as Santa approached the mayor, he took off his hat, revealing a bald head with a mustache. It was Kerik. He ordered Aswad to open the suitcase.

In it were 50 busts of Kerik that were ordered by the Police Foundation. Kerik passed them out to everyone in sight. Then he spotted Kelly.

"Merry Christmas, commissioner," he said, handing him one. "Great job on crime."

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© 2002 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.