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The NYPD's War On Terror

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Part of what Kelly learned during his first term as commissioner—and its aftermath—is the importance of perception. It may not be fair and it may not be right, but sometimes it is not enough just to do a good job.

Self-promotion is not Kelly's natural mode, but it seems he has learned a few things from watching eight years of Giuliani. Kelly has become the face of the NYPD in the same way that Giuliani was always the face of New York. If there's a bodega robbed in the Bronx on a Sunday afternoon, it is most likely Ray Kelly who will be on the six- and eleven-o'clock news.

He also must have recognized, coming back to the NYPD, that no matter what he did on the crime front, he would not get any credit. When the FBI crime stats were released last month, New York's numbers were terrific. That week, in an editorial celebrating the continuing crime decline, the New York Post congratulated Kelly this way: "The local crime rate continues to drop—even as crime nationwide is on the rise—because Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg continue to employ the previous administration's anti-crime tactics."

Terrorism, by contrast, is Kelly's fight. But for all of the risk and the additional headaches, Kelly may, ironically, end up getting very little credit on this front even if he succeeds. When you're battling street crime, success and failure are easy to measure. Murder goes up or goes down. Rapes increase or they decrease. But how do you measure the terrorist acts that didn't happen? The ones all the painstaking work may have prevented? In fact, some of the successes may never even be made public when they do occur.

In November, the Times ran a full-page story with the headline deepening shadows that stated in its lead, "Once again, it's not uncommon to feel a vague sense of dread when walking down a shadowy street." And "New Yorkers are more fearful these days."

"You don't want this kind of perception to fester," Kelly says with a hint of frustration in his voice. "I'm aware it's out there. But it is a little difficult to deal with when it's not based on some reality."

With the crime numbers way down from four years ago, why do average people say they feel less safe? What has changed for them? "The elephant in the corner of the room," Kelly says, "is 9/11. That's why people feel less safe."

So Kelly's job is to end the fear. Not the fear of conventional street crime, which continues to be under control, but fear of a menace that can be very hard to see. "Kelly's a very methodical guy who does things step-by-step, by the numbers," says Reppetto. "And he is clearly determined that if something does happen, nobody is going to be able to say they didn't do everything possible to stop it. There won't be some report issued afterward saying the NYPD fell short."


The most obvious tests of Kelly's new counterterrorism strategy are large public events. And two months ago, with several hundred thousand people gathered in Times Square for New Year's Eve, the pressure was really on the commissioner and the NYPD. They had executed what Kelly calls their "counterterrorism overlay package." Undercovers were everywhere. Intelligence officers mingled in the crowd. Sharpshooters were on the rooftops. Police boats were on the water, choppers were overhead, and Hercules Teams were ready to move.

Kelly also had the department's Archangel package in place, which includes ESU teams equipped to detect a chemical or biological attack and to respond if one does in fact occur.

Is New York less safe than it was? "You don't want this kind of perception to fester. I'm aware that it's out there. The elephant in the corner of the room is 9/11. That's why people feel less safe."

The five days leading up to the celebration had been especially difficult. There were intelligence reports detailing serious harbor threats, including information about a possible plan to stage eight separate diversionary acts culminating with a major terrorist attack. All the locations were covered. The water had an eerie, blacker-than-usual look to it because it was mostly empty. No pleasure boats were allowed out.

Police had also been looking for the five men who might have come across the border from Canada using illegal documents. Michael John Hamdani, the Pakistani document forger under arrest in Toronto, told the NYPD detective who interrogated him about the men. This prompted the FBI to instigate and then call off a nationwide manhunt. Hamdani, however, didn't say they were terrorists, just that they were trying to sneak into the U.S. For Kelly, this highlighted what he believes is an ongoing alien-smuggling problem. Cops hit various locations around the city during the day, and several arrests were made.

Kelly also had credible intelligence that something might happen between Christmas and New Year's Day at the stock exchange. All week, Hercules Teams had been flooding the financial district. And then, of course, there was the gathering in Times Square itself.

"We were covering a lot of bases," says Kelly. "But we were addressing all these things appropriately. We all felt we'd done everything we could've reasonably done to make the night a safe one. You can really see the force and the power of the Police Department manifestly displayed on a night like New Year's Eve."

Finally, at around 1:30 in the morning, when most of the crowd had drifted away, Kelly had a momentary flash of relief, and satisfaction. The night had been so well handled that there were only three arrests—for disorderly conduct—in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. But Kelly's pleasure was short-lived. "When you get past a particular event now, there's the next event you have to address. And we were concerned about New Year's Day."


Kelly has taken on this burden at an extraordinarily difficult moment for the Police Department. With the city facing its most serious deficits in 30 years, budget cuts have hit the department hard. By July, Kelly will be down 3,000 officers from the roughly 40,000-man force he took over last January. In addition, he has 1,000 cops assigned full-time to his fight against the terrorists.

In an attempt to fill in the gaps, Kelly has energetically tried to convince the federal government that the cost of protecting New York is no longer just a municipal responsibility. Though a half-billion dollars of need has been identified, Kelly and his staff have whittled it down to a $261 million list that includes money for training and equipment. Despite several trips to Washington, Kelly has so far made no progress.

He has also been a good soldier and not publicly fought with the mayor over budget issues. When the mayor was booed last week at the graduation ceremony for 2,108 new cops—largely because his budget-cutting included talk of police layoffs—Kelly enthusiastically came to his defense. However, the police commissioner was not always so sanguine about the cuts. When Bloomberg made his first statement last July calling for 7.5 percent cuts across all city departments, sources say, Kelly balked.

According to one source, Kelly initially told the mayor he couldn't play ball on the budget cuts. He was not going to be the police commissioner on whose watch crime began to go up because the department was underfunded and undermanned. Though everything was worked out amicably, Bloomberg's people actually contacted several former commissioners—including Bratton and Timoney—to see what they were up to. "The conversations were to put out friendly feelers that were one stop short of 'Are you still available?,' says the source.

The potential downside for Kelly of this focus on counterterrorism is enormous. "I know there's a universe out there just waiting to say, 'Aha, I told you so,' " he says. "But let me tell you something. We're taking care of business. There is this notion that this administration cannot do it all, something's gotta give. Well, the city is safer than it's ever been in modern history."

Before september 11, the nightmare that haunted New York's police commissioners—and commissioners in other big cities as well—tended to revolve around police brutality and race—Amadou Diallo, say, or Rodney King. One commissioner who left his job not all that long ago while riding a wave of popularity in his city reportedly told a confidant that he believed he was "one 3 a.m. phone call away from having it all fall apart." Since 9/11, of course, "having it all fall apart" means something entirely different—and much scarier. "We don't know the time and we don't know the place," says Libutti, "but we do know the bad guys are coming back."

Sitting in his office one recent evening as a cold wind whipped across the plaza in front of police headquarters, Kelly showed no signs of the pressure he is under.

"I enjoy this job and I'm living in the moment," he said while eating a cookie. "The world has changed, but I believe I'm doing the right thing. We're the biggest, most important city in the world, and this is the biggest, most talented police force. And we have done everything we can reasonably do to prevent another attack."


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