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What’s Eating the NYPD?

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The officers pictured here were photographed at random in public places in the city. None of them were interviewed by New York Magazine or have any connection to the officers quoted in this article.  

The disaffection from the public and anger at the department aren’t universal, but they are widespread, stretching across boroughs and ranksand cops say that the acrimony is a by-product of the numbers-obsessed systems that Kelly has perfected. The commissioner inherited CompStat, the innovative marriage of computer-analyzed crime stats and grilling of field commanders. But in the Kelly era, CompStat has filtered through every facet of the department, and making a good show at those meetings has become an obsession. Few cops talk openly about the NYPD’s troubles: Some are wary of the media, some fear punishment from the department. The job is getting smaller all the timemore demands, less autonomy, less respect, a recently retired Bronx detective says mournfully. The aggressive management culture has been really effective, but it’s also extremely aggravating.

Beat cops feel stuck in the middle. If we don’t write the summons, you hear about it from the sergeant; if we do, from the public. So we’re just the bad guy, either way, a demoralized Brooklyn patrolwoman says. Where do we turn? It’s horrible now.

Increasing the strain is the mandate to keep crime at historic lows while the size of the department shrinks: The NYPD has 6,000 fewer cops than it did in 2001, owing to budget cuts. Ninety percent of the stress on our job is internal, a twenty-year veteran says. Crime is down as much as you can get it, you’re doing as much as you can with fewer people, and if you ask for more, what you’re going to get is corruption, people fudging numbers, locking people up just to do it. And that’s where the city is now. Everybody’s attention is so focused on the numbers nobody cares about each other. You can’t. The human element is gone. It’s why so many cops are so miserable.

Whenever Kelly leaves One Police Plazamost likely in January 2014, when a newly elected mayor replaces Michael Bloomberghe will be rightly celebrated as the greatest police commissioner in the city’s history. Crime, overall, is down 34 percent since Kelly took office. There have been zero successful terrorist attacks on the city since September 11, 2001, and, by the NYPD’s count, fourteen foiled plots. Those two monumental achievementsthe increase in everyday safety and the prevention of spectacular disasterswill form the bulk of his immediate legacy. But another element, almost as large, is the department he has shaped and will leave behind. Success has enabled Kelly to set a record for longevity: In two tenures, he has served more than eleven years as police commissioner. That’s impressive all by itself, given that the job is exhausting and politically treacherous. Yet the underappreciated significance of Kelly’s staying power is that his impact on the department will live long beyond his physical presence in One Police Plaza. The NYPD is now thoroughly marinated in Kelly’s personality and priorities. He’s greatly broadened the department’s racial diversity, and exponentially enlarged its technological capabilities. One enormous priority, of course, was thrust upon Kelly: the need to protect the city from terrorists. The commissioner’s approach, though, is characteristic of the man: Kelly has created, basically from scratch, a world-spanning counterterror intelligence capability that works with other law-enforcement agencies but depends on none. An entire generation of cops has grown up schooled in his crime-fighting methods. Nearly half of the department’s 34,800 cops were hired on Kelly’s watch. He handles many promotions personally, so the NYPD’s management thoroughly reflects Kelly’s views.

And right now, the department the commissioner rebuilt has two striking characteristics: its effectiveness and its unhappiness. It isn’t evident in the numbers of calls we receive but in the qualitative increase in problems: I can’t deal with this anymore,’  says Bill Genet, an ex-cop who runs a peer-counseling service for the city’s officers. We had this unusual four suicides in two months. The rubber band is being pulled mighty thin. Cops say the same top-down, micromanaging, statistics-loving style that has driven down crime has also depressed cop morale. Is Ray Kelly winning the war and losing the troops?

Daniel Perez’s is a classic New York story. His parents moved from Puerto Rico to Queens before he was born; his father scraped out a living as a doorman, and his mother worked in a factory. So a civil-service jobthat was a golden ticket, Perez says. I became a cop at 20 years old. I was out on patrol with a gun before I was old enough to drink!

At 45, Perez is effervescent and curious, the kind of guy you’d enjoy sharing a ball game and a beer with. He’s also barrel-chested and muscular, not the kind of guy you’d want to piss off. I’m a city guy my whole life, so I love it, he says, even though he moved to Long Island after getting married. Like many cops, Perez felt the need to decompress in the suburbs after a day of chasing drug dealers through vacant lots. Perez worked his way up from Queens foot patrol to Brooklyn patrol supervisor to a Bronx unit that hunts for fugitives with outstanding warrants. We’re among the few people who could actually kick in doors, or climb a fire escape, looking for people. That’s fun! he says, his boyish enthusiasm undimmed. You’d be surprised how many people you find under a bed. Or in a closet. You’re looking in a closet that’s filled with clothes, standing there with a gun yelling, Come out!’ So what you have to do is reach in there and check. If he has a gun, I could get shot in the face. But you gotta put your gun away and stick your hand in there. When you poke and you feel a body, you jump every time. It scares the shit out of you, no matter how many times you’ve done it. That’s why you gotta have your gun put away.


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