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What’s Eating the NYPD?

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The everyday hazards of the job, Cameron found, are something the outside world is clueless about. “Shootings are what make the papers, but we get hurt all the time,” he says. “In the projects, so much of the crime happens in the stairwells. I’ve been thrown down the stairs a few times. That definitely sucks. When that stuff happens, you don’t get the support from the department, either personally or politically.”

Cameron grew up in the city and understood objectively the hostility from the neighborhood toward police. “ I was a ghetto cop. I went into a neighborhood that had generations of deep-seated resentment toward the Police Department, and the general culture of the neighborhood is very anti-cop,” he says. “That’s not to say that everyone hates the cops. Some people are glad we’re there, especially in the housing projects. But you go into a place like this and it’s very hard to help people who hate you and who don’t want to be helped. You soon think, Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself at risk for people who are not happy to see me?”

And it wasn’t as if the department balanced things out with positive reinforcement. “A guy punched me, and because I didn’t have a black eye, my boss says, ‘Let’s not make it an assault on a police officer. It’s not going to stick, and it’s going to make the precinct look bad, because that’s an increase in felonies.’ ”

He loved the work, but couldn’t take the weird emotional isolation—why put up with abuse from the public and pettiness from your employer, all for a mere $37,000 paycheck? So after three years, Cameron quit, and the department lost a young, energetic cop who tried to use his head and his heart as much as his handcuffs.

There is no doubt who is in charge. Ray Kelly takes the seat at the head of the long black polished marble table, in a windowless, dimly lit conference room on the fourteenth floor of One Police Plaza. In front of him is a sleek computer keypad; looming behind him, on a six-foot-tall flat-screen, is the NYPD logo. The other three walls are covered with similar screens. A dozen or so flash live views of streets all over the city; another giant screen maps quality-of-life complaints; next to a screen providing a bird’s-eye-view photo of the New Jersey approach to the Holland Tunnel is the image of a suspicious car and listings, tracked by the car’s license plate, of its whereabouts today. At the far end of the room, directly opposite Kelly, are screens showing key TV stations, from NY1 to Fox to Al Jazeera. At 70, the commissioner moves a little stiffly and sometimes has trouble hearing. But in this setting Kelly comes across as all-seeing, totally in command.

Kelly wishes he could get out in the field more. Many of his days, though, are jammed with meetings here. A counterterrorism briefing is first thing in the morning—today there was talk about getting the FBI to open a new case “on a particular individual”—followed by a city-crime meeting with top chiefs, and on some days followed by a meeting with 40 top staffers. Lately there have been additional meetings with leaders of Muslim groups. Then there are press conferences and ceremonial events—yesterday, one to discuss the coming Jewish holy days. At night, frequently, Kelly heads out to visit community groups—most recently, Rise Up and Stop the Violence, at a Brooklyn housing project.

In between, though, he says he tries to stay in touch with the rank and file. “I talk to a lot of cops in the street. Not as much as I’d like. I stop the car and talk, I jump in radio cars and ride around. I like to talk to traffic-enforcement agents. I think they’re neglected. They have a tough job and they don’t get enough pats on the back, so I jump out and talk to them. I think I have a pretty good feel for it. Cops on patrol down by the World Trade Center, I talk to them a lot,” Kelly says. “When you talk to cops one-on-one, they’ll tell you they love this job.”

Well, actually, I tell him, I’ve been hearing just the opposite. Kelly sits up straight. “You’ve got to factor in, speaking to reporters, people are going to vent. It’s an opportunity—you don’t get any pluses for saying, ‘Everything is great,’ ” he says. “Somebody might have a pet peeve, and you might be the right vehicle to get it out. The fact that we’re down 6,000 cops, and we have increased the array of things that we’re doing, probably means there’s a lot more pressure on cops to get the job done.”


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