One Police Plaza

Kelly Whines It Up

December 23, 2013

If, as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one, pity poor Ray Kelly.

After 12 years as the longest-serving and most powerful police commissioner in New York City history, Kelly feels he is departing One Police Plaza misunderstood and unloved.

The world caught a glimpse of this from his Playboy interview [see NYPD Confidential, Nov. 18, 2013] in which he lamented that all politicians are liars, including Bill de Blasio, who won the mayoral election, at least in part, by attacking Kelly’s signature Stop and Frisk policy. Since 2003, the policy produced five million stops of mostly young black New Yorkers, virtually none of whom was carrying a weapon or had committed any crime.

Last week Kelly whined to his favorite amanuensis, the Daily News’s Mike Lupica, about a “false narrative,” a “rewriting of history” and assertions that Kelly was “racist.”

Kelly told the Post’s Jamie Schram that he couldn’t see anything he did wrong. “I can’t see any failures…. I don’t see any major errors that I would say we needed to do over.”

It’s not just in New York that Kelly’s reputation has waned. Despite the media hype, driven primarily by Senator Chuck Schumer, who pushed Kelly first for FBI and then Homeland Security Director, Kelly was passed over for both positions. Remember his fist bump from Vice President Biden? That was not a token of affection but an Obama kiss-off.

And if all this were not galling enough, Kelly’s worst nightmare has now come true. His successor will not be his perceived choice, Chief of Department Phil Banks, but his rival and nemesis who, more than anyone else in law enforcement, Kelly despises — Bill Bratton.

Worse, former mayor Rudy Giuliani — who had recently asked to be heard as a “friend of court” in support of Kelly’s Stop and Frisk policy and who, more than anyone else, Kelly has come to resemble — last week praised Bratton as “a great reformer.”

Just a few short years ago, NYU professor Mitchell Moss, expressing the feelings of the city’s body politic, had hailed Kelly as “our secretary of defense, head of the CIA and ... chief architect rolled into one.”

So what happened?

The answer lies in something Kelly said to Lupica about Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Mike Bloomberg was the ideal boss for me…. [A]s long as you are delivering, he leaves you alone.”

In fact, it was Bloomberg's failure to supervise Kelly — what this column has over the years called Bloomberg’s abdication of his mayoral responsibilities — that, in this reporter’s opinion, has led to Kelly’s fall from grace.

Our billionaire mayor never visited earth long enough to appreciate that law enforcement folk can never be left unsupervised. The best, and worst, of them — from the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood’s time; to modern day Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona or J. Edgar Hoover — have to be watched, and restrained.

In short, a civilian authority must exist to rein these guys in. Under Bloomberg, there were no reins on Kelly.

During his three terms as mayor, Bloomberg allowed Kelly to run roughshod over all other city agencies; violate the city charter and refuse to cooperate with the Civilian Complaint Review Board; flout the Freedom of Information law; make it virtually impossible for reporters to obtain press cards; and close off the department from public scrutiny.

Angered by this column, which then appeared in Newsday, Kelly barred this reporter from Police Plaza as a “security threat,” placing Your Humble Servant’s mug shot inside the inner pod of headquarters’ security desk alongside two people who had threatened Kelly’s life. That’s a fact, readers, hard as it is to believe. [See NYPD Confidential, Jan. 9, Jan. 16 and Feb. 13, 2006.]

Adding to Kelly’s freedom to do whatsoever he pleased was 9/11. As the police historian Tom Reppetto put it, after 9/11 New Yorkers saw Kelly as the lone man standing between the city and another terrorist attack.

Kelly reveled in that depiction of himself. His feelings of superiority over everyone else in law enforcement laid the foundation for his reluctance to work with other law enforcement agencies. This was especially true of the Port Authority police, with whom Kelly has fought over control of Ground Zero, and of the FBI, with whom Kelly has fought over control of fighting terrorism.

Finally, there was the mainstream media’s post-9/11 swoon.

After police arrested a Daily News reporter covering the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, a News editorial made no mention of the police having overstepped its authority. Instead, the editorial said the reporter would have something to tell his grandchildren about.

Even The New York Times sleep-walked during the first few years of Kelly’s reign. As late as 2009, the Times was so impressed with Kelly that they placed him in the “rich tradition of fancy-dressing police officials,” and presented him in full-color haberdashery splendor, noting his Charvet tie and penchant for Windsor knots. [See NYPD Confidential Sept. 7, 2009].

Amidst all this acclaim, Kelly created his own intelligence service that stationed NYPD detectives overseas in 11 terrorism hot spots in order to rival the FBI.

Acting on its own, the NYPD made three widely publicized arrests of suspected terrorists, while making hyperbolic claims of having foiled 16 plots against the city, including one to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

It didn't seem to matter that these terrorism suspects turned out to be people with either a low I.Q. or emotional and/or psychiatric problems, including a man just released from a mental institution.

One had even been guided to his plot by a police informant to whom the department had paid $100,000.

As to the 16 plots, Kelly subsequently acknowledged that the FBI had stopped most of them and that the NYPD had played only a supporting role.

Earlier this year, Kelly admitted that his overseas detectives had produced not a single tip about a potential terrorist attack in New York. [See NYPD Confidential, Jan. 14, 2013.]

And, despite Kelly’s claim that the NYPD protected the Brooklyn Bridge night and day, 24/7, a Brooklyn graffiti artist, on the night of June 26, 2012, was somehow able to climb to one of the bridge’s stanchions 119 feet over the East River and tag his name, “Lewy BTM,” in three spots. [See NYPD Confidential, July 9, 2012.]

As for Stop and Frisk, the irony of Kelly’s current problems is that, during his first turn as police commissioner under David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, Kelly showed unusual sensitivity to the concerns of black New Yorkers.

Every Sunday, he traveled to black churches around the city to recruit black officers, something neither of his two black predecessors had done.

He instituted a policy known as “community policing,” which encouraged officers to interact with residents in minority communities.

An indication of Kelly’s popularity among blacks fell under the law of unintended consequences. On Dec. 7, 1993, a black man named Colin Ferguson boarded a Long Island Rail Road train and, in a gesture of dubious charity to New Yorkers, waited until it crossed into Nassau County before shooting and killing four white people and wounding nine others. When arrested, he carried papers that stated: “New York City was spared because of my respect for Mayor David Dinkins and Commissioner Raymond Kelly.”

When Giuliani and Bratton took office the following year, they ignored Kelly’s many accomplishments, and ridiculed community policing as “social work.”

As crime began to fall dramatically under Bratton by what was termed “pro-active” policing — much of which resembled Stop and Frisk — Kelly told Time magazine: “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with this style. It goes to the question of what kind of policing we want in America. You can probably shut down just about all crime, if you’re willing to burn down the village to save it.”

When Kelly returned as police commissioner in 2002, he forgot about community policing. Instead, he focused on Stop and Frisk.

That has become today’s burning village. The final irony is that this time around, the village may be saved by Bratton.

Edited by Donald Forst


Copyright © 2013 Leonard Levitt