NEW YORK—Ray Kelly’s tenure as commissioner of the largest police force in the United States was defined by a series of admirable accomplishments, catastrophic moments, and tactics widely questioned by city residents.
Among his most frequently cited accomplishments was the substantial decrease in crime since 2000. Major felony crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, and felonious assault all steadily decreased.
The most oft-noted statistic is the murder rate. In 2000, there were 673 murders throughout the city, but at the end of 2013 there were 333.
In a final interview with “48 Hours,” Kelly was not shy about hyping the change and taking some credit for it.
“There are still pockets in the city where there are problems, no question about it,” Kelly told Erin Moriarty of “48 Hours.” “But you know, just a few years ago, people were afraid to come out of their house, afraid to go into Midtown Manhattan. That’s a bygone era.”
As proud as he is of the high points of his tenure, Kelly frequently showed annoyance at criticism over some of his more unpopular tactics, notably stop and frisk. While he said the tactic of stopping, questioning, and sometimes frisking individuals is an important crime-fighting tool, critics have called it a civil rights violation and racial profiling.
In 2013, a federal judge ordered a monitor, a mediator, and an academic advisory panel to oversee the use of stop and frisk. Around the same time, City Council voted to expand the definition of racial profiling and give those who felt they were unfairly targeted the right to take legal action.
Kelly created the most diverse police force in the world, with more than half of its 34,500 cops representing a minority group.
Kelly also dealt nimbly with the aftermath of 9/11, and used the NYPD’s diversity to take it into the 21st century with the creation of a worldwide counterterrorism bureau and an intelligence division.
“Kelly set out to revolutionize the role of intelligence gathering at the NYPD, taking full advantage of all its enormous resources,” said Christopher Dickey, author of “Securing the City,” an inside look at the police department’s special divisions.
David Cohen, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services, was tapped as head of intelligence, and worked closely with Kelly for 12 years.
“Early on, they realized they could leverage the enormous diversity of the NYPD recruiting base, which draws on people from scores of different national and ethnic backgrounds,” said Dickey. “Hundreds of cops were native speakers of Urdu, Arabic, Farsi, Pashto, and other languages helpful when investigating criminal and terrorist organizations.”
Dickey said that Cohen’s focus was on gathering human intelligence with undercover operatives, while Kelly built up the NYPD’s ability to do things like integrate multiple databases, use extensive CCTV coverage, and so on.
Those two bureaus, which play such a key role in gathering intelligence and assessing potential threats, are likely to continue under the new commissioner, William Bratton, though they might be refined.
“De Blasio’s choice of Bratton as the new commissioner suggests just how much things will stay the same at a time when there’s the pretense of change,” said Dickey.
Many of Kelly’s final months as commissioner were marred by controversy as well as political and judicial wrangling over stop and frisk. That controversy was doubly impacted by a summer of racial tension that ignited after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case and a vigorous national debate on racial profiling. The majority of those targeted by stop and frisk are black or Latino.
Spying on the Muslim Community
For some, though, a more significant controversy of Kelly’s administration was over targeting New York’s Muslim community. In 2011, interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press revealed that the NYPD was running a secret program meant to catalog life inside Muslim neighborhoods. It was known as the Moroccan Initiative. Officers spied on people as they immigrated, got jobs, became citizens, and started businesses, though the NYPD claimed officers would only follow leads when investigating terrorism.
“It’s a very broad and dangerous concept [to police by religion],” said professor Maria (Maki) Haberfeld, a professor of police science, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “You don’t surveil people because they are of certain religion or certain race. This is very undemocratic. Given the panic mode after 9/11 regarding potential additional terrorist attacks against New York City, I can understand how it originated. [But] enough time has passed since 9/11 not to be engaged in that anymore.”
But Haberfeld gives leeway when it comes to Kelly’s overall legacy during his time at the head of the NYPD.
“There are accomplishments and controversial issues, as you always have when someone is in office for that long.”