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What’s Eating the NYPD?

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Indeed. Which is a large part of why they’ve been telling me they’re mad—and, more specifically, that the pressure is expressed through a quest for ever-better statistics. “We have metrics, like the rest of the world has metrics,” Kelly says firmly. “We want cops to do what we want them to do. We don’t want them to do what they like doing. It’s the way every business runs. I don’t see that, and I think it would manifest itself in people leaving. You vote with your feet, and you can retire at an early age here, and the retirement numbers are going down. So to me, that doesn’t necessarily support that theory. I wish everybody was happy, but that’s not what I’m paid for.”

He says ticket-fixing was never condoned and dismisses the Bronx courthouse ­protest as theater staged by police labor unions. There’s a perfectly good reason cops need to report when they’re out sick—they have unlimited sick time. The prominence of CompStat in department life? Too bad: Numbers-­driven accountability is the way of the modern world, and it’s hard to fire civil-service employees, so you need to push them somehow. What about cops who claim that many stop-and-frisks are just to generate numbers? “Most of the focus on stop-and-frisk is in problem areas,” he says. “You have a precinct, and you have shootings down here—that’s where the captains, that’s where the commanders, want their stops to take place. But nobody’s telling you you’ve got to make ten stops. That’s not happening. What they want to see is activity. Why? Because up the chain of command, they’re looking for that activity. I think it’s perfectly reasonable. You come on the Police Department, we want to see you enforce laws. If in fact it’s driven by a number, that’s wrong.”

He is sharp, he is unflinching, and what he cares about are the results. Kelly believes the current external criticism may actually be a perverse compliment: that the public is spoiled by the NYPD’s success. “Yes,” he says quickly. “We had a record crime year in 1990—what’s been the turnover here since 1990? Lots of new people have come in. They just accept the fact that crime is down.” Sure, he wants his cops to obey the law—and Kelly is adamant that the Muslim surveillance program was well within it—but it is the bottom line that matters. And here, for all his my-way-or-the-highway managerial style, Kelly nevertheless verges on the lyrical. “What nobody speaks about is the disproportionate level of violence in black and Hispanic communities,” he says. “That’s where the murders are happening. Ninety-six percent of the shooting victims, black or Hispanic. Ninety percent of the homicide victims, black or Hispanic. It’s easy to ask questions [about stop-and-frisk]. We have to come up with some solutions. If you don’t want this to happen, tell me how you reduce this level of violence, because it’s way disproportionate. When I see the principal case sheet every day here, who’s shot? Male black, male black, male Hispanic, male black, male black, male black. Eighteen, 22, 24. Those 5,628 lives that were saved in ten years, the vast majority of those lives are black or Hispanic, and the vast majority of them are young men.”

If some innocent folks get hassled in the process, it’s worth the trade-off; if cops are feeling beaten down, tough luck. “You can say, people are happy, but crime is going up. That’s not what the Police Department is all about,” Kelly says, his eyes flickering. “You’re always gonna find somebody who’s gonna complain. But for me, I’d love to have everybody happy, but I’m charged with the responsibility of leading this organization and keeping the city safe. By any objective criteria, we’re doing that, and doing it well.”

He says morale is an individual, not collective, state. At some point, though, the internal toll of the past decade could start to erode the NYPD’s mission and threaten the safety of the city Kelly has worked so hard to protect. Just outside the commissioner’s conference room is a scale model of the new $1 billion police academy being built in Queens. The test will come when the younger cops, raised in the current era—Kelly’s kids—outnumber the older cops who are now chafing at the commissioner’s methods.

Will the newer officers come to resent the statistics-driven culture just as much as their predecessors? Or will they and the next commissioner continue it, and improve it, into another grand era of New York crime reduction? The NYPD may simmer for the next two years, but it will be much longer before Ray Kelly’s legacy is completely settled.


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