Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Boss Kelly

The long-serving NYPD commissioner is autocratic, dismissive of civil-liberties concerns—and effective. Is that a reasonable trade-off to keep the city safe?

“W here to, boss?” the detective says.

“The office.”

“Boss, that 10th Precinct job, suspicious package, that Ryder truck that was parked at that parking location, that was scanned by the bomb squad and deemed to be safe. Four-five and Tenth Avenue.”

The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, nods to his detective and buckles his seat belt as his black Suburban heads back to headquarters. But first, a pit stop.

“Where’s the Dunkin’ Donuts?” Kelly says. “On 33rd and Second?”

“Right side, yeah.”

Behind the tinted windows, Kelly, who is 68, tries to get comfortable in the thronelike leather backseat. He is a gadget geek who raves about his iPods and iPad, and his SUV is a roving bunker that, like most of his additions to the Police Department in the last eight years, has been outfitted with the latest technology. In front of him is a computer on a flat screen, a mahogany foldout desk, a television wired to a satellite dish on the roof, a VCR, a DVD player, a fax machine, two hard-line phones, a flexy reading lamp, a variety of police radios cued in to the city’s 76 police precincts and other commands—like the Barn, where the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit is stationed—pouches stuffed with dossiers, and all the morning’s newspapers. Somewhere behind him is first-aid gear.

Wearing a double-breasted custom suit and a purple Charvet tie (“My only vice,” Kelly once said about shopping for designer ties on sale), he slips on glasses—which the in-house photographers at One Police Plaza know not to capture him wearing—and scrolls a portable mouse over the pinstripes on his knee. He clicks on a Times blog, for a near-instant update on another bomb scare.

It has been a hectic afternoon, Friday, May 7. Since a Nissan Pathfinder was found smoking in Times Square the week before, the NYPD phone lines have been bombarded with suspicious-package calls. Only moments ago, the NYPD had evacuated Times Square again, owing to a call about what turned out to be an abandoned cooler filled with water bottles. Moments later, the police evacuated the area of 45th and Tenth because of the abandoned moving truck. Another false alarm.

“People are a little nervous these days, because of … ” Kelly says and trails off.

He speaks in a whisper so soft that sometimes the words he uses are hard to decipher. He has had trouble hearing since Vietnam. Artillery fire blasted at his eardrums. Kelly often asks reporters to repeat questions. Devices are plugged into both his ears to amplify sound.

Because of?

“Because of recent events,” Kelly says.

K elly has been, more than anyone else, the law-enforcement face of those events. Despite his recent drumbeat that law-enforcement officials should not disclose information to the press about an investigation (that way, they won’t spook suspects into hiding or destroying evidence), it was the commissioner who summoned reporters to One Police Plaza the day after the smoking Pathfinder was discovered to deliver a briefing that was vintage Kelly in the precision of its detail. The Feds stood behind as Kelly personally answered all questions, outlining in his bulldog, ramrod, Marine manner the contents of the truck (“The gun locker was 55 inches tall, 32 inches wide, and contained eight bags of an unknown substance that’s granular in nature”), where the car was registered (“Connecticut”), who the owner might be (“a white male … shedding a dark-colored shirt, revealing a red one underneath”), and what the bomb might have done (“caused a significant fireball”).

The man in the red undershirt turned out to be a man in a red undershirt, and the Feds later seized the case, but Kelly’s pug-faced ubiquity did not seem to diminish. He was on the Today show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes. He traveled to Washington to stand on the dais with the nation’s top law-enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder, trumpeting the NYPD detective who found the Pathfinder’s vin number, which Kelly declared “the break in this case.” He was back in Washington a day later, testifying in Congress alongside his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, about getting more federal funding for high-tech anti-terror initiatives and gun-control laws. And as Faisal Shahzad was being charged, Kelly held a conference at police headquarters about the homegrown-terror threat, having one commander PowerPoint through the Shahzad case.

Kelly and Bloomberg are not letting this crisis go to waste. City Hall allowed the Police Department to retain the positions of 900 cops after the smoking Pathfinder was found, and Bloomberg went to London to publicize Kelly’s plan to spend $40 million to wire up midtown with more surveillance cameras, and later lobbied to increase the city’s share of the Homeland Security funds. And last year, Kelly’s ultra-high-end security budget for holding the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York was a central factor in persuading the Justice Department that it might be smarter to hold it elsewhere. “Politically, I think it will be very, very difficult for them to come back here,” he says.