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Clash of the Titans

January 4, 2016

Former police commissioner Ray Kelly has, without any substantiation, accused his successor Bill Bratton of massaging crime statistics to make the city appear safer than it is. And at 1 Police Plaza, officials don’t lack reasons for Kelly’s claim:

BulletKelly is hoping to sell copies of his book, “Vigilance,” which isn’t doing so well.

BulletKelly Is seeking renewed attention after separating from the global commercial real estate powerhouse, Cushman & Wakefield, and hooking up with the smaller K2 Intelligence security firm.

BulletKelly is testing the waters for a mayoral run, egged on by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post and the city’s greatest collection of right-wing toadies, the Manhattan Institute.

Perhaps the person best able to understand Kelly’s motivations is Dr. Spielvogel, the psychiatrist in Philp Roth’s comic novel “Portnoy’s Complaint." Spielvogel diagnosed Alexander Portnoy as having a disorder that included Portnoy’s “perpetually warring” and “strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses.” Kelly seems to have acted from warring impulses and a failing sense of realty. In short, his inability to recognize that after 12 years he is no longer the NYPD commissioner.

Kelly’s claim appears to have backfired, however, and even the New York Post is backing off its original story. As that great newspaper of unbiased accuracy editorialized last week, “The Post’s own NYPD sources insist that the tricks Kelly describes are not in play.”

Bratton has called on Kelly to “be a big man” and identify his sources for the undocumented claim. Police officials note that Bratton’s use of the word “big” was especially pointed, denoting Kelly’s sensitivity to his 5-foot-8-inch frame, the department’s minimum height requirement at the time of his appointment.

Fudging crime figures is as common a practice in policing as doping is in sports. The NYPD’s former Internal Affairs chief, John Guido, warned about it when Bratton began his vaunted COMPSTAT program in 1994 under Rudy Giuliani. He said commanders would be tempted to cheat because their promotions were based on crime-reduction results.

In 2004, Kelly’s second year as commissioner, the patrolmen’s and sergeants’ unions charged that department higher-ups were pressuring officers to downgrade felonies to misdemeanors. Michael Pomerantz, chairman of the Mayor’s Commissioner to Combat Police Corruption, investigated but Kelly refused to turn over requested documents. When Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to intercede, Pomerantz resigned. [See NYPD Confidential, April 22, 2005.]

Then there was the malcontent Adrian Schoolcraft of the 81st Precinct, who in 2009 said his commanders doctored crime stats. After Schoolcraft was arrested for leaving his post and placed in the psychiatric unit of Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, Kelly announced the appointment of a three-man commission, promising it would complete its finding within six months.Two years later, after one of its three members had died, the commission concluded that doctoring of crime stats existed. And not just in the 81st Precinct.

Bratton vs. Kelly, meanwhile, has been in play for the past 25 years, settling personal scores through police policies. The story begins in the 1990s when, as head of the Transit Police, Bratton nearly convinced then-Mayor David Dinkins to pass over Kelly, then first deputy, and appoint Bratton police commissioner. Dinkins went with Kelly, who in 14 months, resuscitated the department, eased racial tensions and even inaugurated a small crime drop.

Giuliani, however, wanting a break with the past, dismissed Kelly and appointed Bratton. As crime fell dramatically, Bratton and Giuliani disparaged Kelly’s accomplishments. Most galling to Kelly was that they took credit for Kelly’s removal of the ubiquitous squeegee men and that they called Kelly’s incipient community policing policy “social work.” Sworn in as commissioner in the wake of 9/11, Kelly took his revenge. Take the 2006 anti-terrorism conference at the Roosevelt Hotel, co-sponsored by the department and the Manhattan Institute to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11. Hundreds of law enforcement folk from across the country attended, as did academics, foreign consular officials and the national media.

When Kelly learned that Bratton, then chief of the LAPD, was a conference panelist, along with his protégés John Miller and John Timoney, Kelly pulled out without explanation. He then held a rival terrorism conference at Police Plaza the same day. [See NYPD Confidential, Sept. 11, 2006.]

Returning as commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bratton also extracted payback. He overhauled Kelly’s signature stop-and-frisk policy, which was directed at young black males and which had risen to 685,000 stops in 2011. He also signaled a change to Kelly’s vaunted counter-terrorism policy, promising “a collaborative relationship” with other law enforcement agencies, in particular the FBI. Kelly had gone “lone wolf” for the past 12 years.

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