In a department so vast, Kelly says all allegations of crime-number fudging must be taken in context. And he defends the accuracy of precinct stats, saying that they are audited twice a year. Still, retired cops now joke that the current uptick in crime isn’t because crime is going up across the city; it’s simply that since the Schoolcraft scandal, cops are reporting crimes correctly.
But not even retired cops willingly talk on the record about Kelly, who is feared more than the average commissioner. “He has a long arm,” warns one detective. The Police Department has seldom, if ever, been less transparent, partly because Kelly and Browne are the only conduits for information. Among rank-and-file cops, talking to a reporter has become a career-ending liability. In February 2006, when Imette St. Guillen, a 24-year-old student at John Jay College, was raped and brutally murdered after leaving a Manhattan bar, information about the homicide was leaked to the Post. In response, Internal Affairs, which reports to Kelly daily, oversaw an extensive investigation to find the source. Thirty-three cops of all ranks were asked to turn over (“dump”) their private cell phones to Internal Affairs, so agents could dig through the dialed calls to ferret out the leak.
“Nothing like that has ever happened before,” one retired chief says of devoting so many Police Department resources to investigating its own and having cops turn over private cell-phone records. “Why not? It’s insane.”
Kelly defends the interrogations. “They broke the code,” he says of the leakers. “This is in the front pages of the papers, they’re putting this out before the individual was taken into custody … Reporters want leaks, and they don’t care where it comes from. But when it undermines the apprehension of a murderer, that can’t be tolerated.”
Under Kelly the NYPD has become too militant, and that hasn’t been good for morale, says Roy Richter, president of the captains union, which represents 740 of the department’s senior officers. When Richter took over, two years ago, he was startled at the number of captains and chiefs who were getting interrogated by Internal Affairs. Richter claims he paid for a lawyer to represent 169 of his members over the past two years in front of Internal Affairs for allegations of misconduct (roughly 20 percent of the cases were substantiated). One captain, suspected of having an affair with an underling, was followed by Internal Affairs officers for days and forced to answer questions about why he dropped off his laundry at lunchtime—technically, against protocol.
“It’s negative for morale and destroys confidence,” Richter says of Kelly’s robust Internal Affairs. “It makes cops pay more attention to details and less attention to the objective. To manage a precinct, which is a multimillion-dollar operation, there has to be some trust.”
Richter complained to Kelly about the number of extensive and nerve-rattling interrogations. Kelly’s response? “If they didn’t do anything wrong, they have nothing to worry about.” Paul Browne adds that a robust Internal Affairs Bureau functions as a deterrent, and that the union is “cherry-picking” a few extreme cases.
While Kelly is a stickler for the rules, some complain the rules for him are blurry. One former detective on his detail says he used the bunker to drive Kelly’s wife to social events. “I’ve done it on numerous occasions,” the retired detective says. And not always to events where Kelly was present. Another retired detective from Kelly’s detail says that he ferried Veronica Kelly around the city to conduct errands, such as dropping off the commissioner’s shirts to be laundered and getting her shoes repaired. Often, the stops would cause her to run late to meet Kelly at an event, the detective says, and the bunker would blast through the city at dangerous speeds with the lights on and sirens blaring to meet the commissioner at events on time. A third former detective on Kelly’s detail says one reason NYPD detectives drive Veronica is to keep her on Kelly’s schedule.
“If she wanted to go to Event 1, and then meet up with him at Event 2, instead of jerking around and making sure she was on time for 2, someone might pick her up and take her to 2,” this retired detective says. While Comptroller Alan Hevesi resigned his office and pleaded guilty to a felony for using a state employee as a chauffeur for his infirm wife, the former detective says it’s unfair to compare. “This guy works 24 hours a day,” the detective says of Kelly. “If he’s working Saturdays, Sundays, midnight, his phone is ringing and his wife needs a ride, c’mon. Let’s not break his balls.”