“W here to, boss?” the detective says.
“Boss, that 10th Precinct job, suspicious package, that Ryder truck that was parked at that parking location, that was scanned by the bomb squad and deemed to be safe. Four-five and Tenth Avenue.”
The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, nods to his detective and buckles his seat belt as his black Suburban heads back to headquarters. But first, a pit stop.
“Where’s the Dunkin’ Donuts?” Kelly says. “On 33rd and Second?”
“Right side, yeah.”
Behind the tinted windows, Kelly, who is 68, tries to get comfortable in the thronelike leather backseat. He is a gadget geek who raves about his iPods and iPad, and his SUV is a roving bunker that, like most of his additions to the Police Department in the last eight years, has been outfitted with the latest technology. In front of him is a computer on a flat screen, a mahogany foldout desk, a television wired to a satellite dish on the roof, a VCR, a DVD player, a fax machine, two hard-line phones, a flexy reading lamp, a variety of police radios cued in to the city’s 76 police precincts and other commands—like the Barn, where the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit is stationed—pouches stuffed with dossiers, and all the morning’s newspapers. Somewhere behind him is first-aid gear.
Wearing a double-breasted custom suit and a purple Charvet tie (“My only vice,” Kelly once said about shopping for designer ties on sale), he slips on glasses—which the in-house photographers at One Police Plaza know not to capture him wearing—and scrolls a portable mouse over the pinstripes on his knee. He clicks on a Times blog, for a near-instant update on another bomb scare.
It has been a hectic afternoon, Friday, May 7. Since a Nissan Pathfinder was found smoking in Times Square the week before, the NYPD phone lines have been bombarded with suspicious-package calls. Only moments ago, the NYPD had evacuated Times Square again, owing to a call about what turned out to be an abandoned cooler filled with water bottles. Moments later, the police evacuated the area of 45th and Tenth because of the abandoned moving truck. Another false alarm.
“People are a little nervous these days, because of … ” Kelly says and trails off.
He speaks in a whisper so soft that sometimes the words he uses are hard to decipher. He has had trouble hearing since Vietnam. Artillery fire blasted at his eardrums. Kelly often asks reporters to repeat questions. Devices are plugged into both his ears to amplify sound.
“Because of recent events,” Kelly says.
K elly has been, more than anyone else, the law-enforcement face of those events. Despite his recent drumbeat that law-enforcement officials should not disclose information to the press about an investigation (that way, they won’t spook suspects into hiding or destroying evidence), it was the commissioner who summoned reporters to One Police Plaza the day after the smoking Pathfinder was discovered to deliver a briefing that was vintage Kelly in the precision of its detail. The Feds stood behind as Kelly personally answered all questions, outlining in his bulldog, ramrod, Marine manner the contents of the truck (“The gun locker was 55 inches tall, 32 inches wide, and contained eight bags of an unknown substance that’s granular in nature”), where the car was registered (“Connecticut”), who the owner might be (“a white male … shedding a dark-colored shirt, revealing a red one underneath”), and what the bomb might have done (“caused a significant fireball”).
The man in the red undershirt turned out to be a man in a red undershirt, and the Feds later seized the case, but Kelly’s pug-faced ubiquity did not seem to diminish. He was on the Today show, Good Morning America, Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes. He traveled to Washington to stand on the dais with the nation’s top law-enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder, trumpeting the NYPD detective who found the Pathfinder’s vin number, which Kelly declared “the break in this case.” He was back in Washington a day later, testifying in Congress alongside his boss, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, about getting more federal funding for high-tech anti-terror initiatives and gun-control laws. And as Faisal Shahzad was being charged, Kelly held a conference at police headquarters about the homegrown-terror threat, having one commander PowerPoint through the Shahzad case.
Kelly and Bloomberg are not letting this crisis go to waste. City Hall allowed the Police Department to retain the positions of 900 cops after the smoking Pathfinder was found, and Bloomberg went to London to publicize Kelly’s plan to spend $40 million to wire up midtown with more surveillance cameras, and later lobbied to increase the city’s share of the Homeland Security funds. And last year, Kelly’s ultra-high-end security budget for holding the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York was a central factor in persuading the Justice Department that it might be smarter to hold it elsewhere. “Politically, I think it will be very, very difficult for them to come back here,” he says.
Kelly’s management creed is to control everything he can control. After 9/11, Kelly’s posture was that security was something an NYPD commissioner couldn’t delegate to others. Inside the massive Police Department, he’s fashioned a counterterrorism force staffed by former CIA officers, FBI agents, and Ivy Leaguers that has, essentially, its own foreign policy as well as informants throughout the city. He’s developed a whole new suite of tactics not only to make the city safer but also—almost as important—to make it feel safer. And part of the strategy is keeping himself in the frame: He is the department, and the department is him. “As a result of his success and longevity, Ray Kelly has become to the NYPD what J. Edgar Hoover was to the FBI,” says Michael Palladino, head of the detectives union.
Though the Feds sometimes complain about Kelly’s detectives’ stepping into their long-term cases and his poaching of headlines, they’ve acknowledged him as a partner in counterterrorism work. On the domestic front, he’s proved to be an administrative magician. With dwindling resources and thousands fewer cops on the streets, the number of reported crimes has continued to dwindle. Despite this year’s dramatic rise in shootings (one of the highest numbers since Bloomberg took office) and uptick in murders (the only crime stat that’s hard to fudge), the homicide rate in New York is still near its lowest in history, give or take a few dozen DOAs. Criminologists say many factors contribute to this, but Kelly has been happy to give the NYPD the credit.
These days, despite the occasional scandal, like last week’s suspension of a lab technician who is alleged to have falsified reports, Kelly’s biggest problem can be his own success and the burden of high expectations. No one expected the crime numbers to continue going down throughout his tenure, yet until the past six months they did. The commissioner is famously sensitive to criticism—“I’ve been there, and let me tell you, it is not a pleasant place to be,” says Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. about the calls he gets from One Police Plaza—so the recent spikes in crime are unsettling for Kelly. What else can he do to drive the numbers down further?
If he were a politician, a role he’s sometimes flirted with, Kelly would be the most popular one in the city. Earlier this year, he received a 70 percent approval rating, matching his highest ever (and nine points higher than Bloomberg’s). Mitchell Moss, an NYU public-policy professor, has said the commissioner “radiates power.” Thomas Reppetto, the author of NYPD: A City and Its Police, calls Kelly “the greatest police commissioner in the history of the city. He invented the playbook on terrorism from scratch.”
Not everyone buys into this heroic picture. Donna Lieberman, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, calls Kelly a “master of PR” and his policies “hyperaggressive.” Under Kelly, the NYPD “has taken on the aura of an occupying force.”
Conga lines of patrol cars flash sirens and barrel down streets, the kind of maximum-visibility, flood-the-zone feint that’s a signature of Kelly’s department. Cops sit high above the street in watchtowers. And more New Yorkers are getting stopped, questioned, frisked, and put into a database. People like Lieberman are mind-boggled that city leaders would allow a commissioner like Kelly to collect information on hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are mostly minorities and nearly 90 percent of whom have done nothing wrong.
Kelly won’t apologize for his tactics. With his military bearing and unforgiving attitude, he’s an odd fit for such a progressive city. But his resilient popularity is a testament to the times he lives in and the dynamics of modern fear. “Even liberals don’t like to be blown up,” says Hank Sheinkopf, who advised Bloomberg in 2009. “Kelly is the guy who seems to know how to protect people from getting blown up. The issue is not whether he knows or doesn’t know. It’s the perception he knows. He has made it believable that he is all that is standing between the citizens of New York and destruction.”
“Hey Joe,” Kelly says, “I want an iced cappuccino, okay? Decaf.”
The bunker pulls over. He looks out a tinted window at the Dunkin’ Donuts. “Chris, what is Dunkin’s Dark Roast?”
“It’s the Colombia version, yeah. High octane.”
“I haven’t seen that one. No brain surgery after that one.”
“Bold flavor,” Kelly says.
On the street, faces look in the windows of the bunker, wondering who might be inside.
“It’s amazing how many Dunkin’ Donuts there are in the city now, it just shocks me,” Kelly says. “You almost see more Dunkin’ Donuts than Starbucks. I don’t know what the numbers are, but you used to see Starbucks everywhere. Now it’s Dunkin’ Donuts.”
The detective is back in the bunker. He hands Kelly his iced cappuccino and his change.
“I should wear shirts with pockets,” Kelly says. “These kind of European cuts, they have no pockets … I like pockets.”
“Boss, I just wanted to give you this bank robbery out in the 7-5 Precinct,” the detective says. “We have a male Hispanic in his thirties. Apparently he walked in with a note, stated he had a firearm, didn’t display the firearm, fled on foot with an undetermined amount of money. No dye packs were given.”
Kelly sips his iced cappuccino from the straw.
“All righty, can we move?” Kelly asks. “If it’s okay with you guys?”
“Yes, sir,” the detective says.
“Yes, sir,” the driver says.
Kelly was never a doughnut-dunking kind of cop. When he first joined the department, in 1963, Kelly had a degree from Manhattan College. With a diploma, he felt ostracized.
“They had no kids like this around the department,” Kelly told me earlier. “So, some strange looks.”
Kelly’s father sold milk and worked in the shipyards before landing a desk job at the IRS. His mother checked clothes in the dressing room at Macy’s. The youngest of four boys, Kelly was an aggressive child. He was not in a gang per se. He was in “a crew,” he says. I ask him what that entailed.
“Fights,” he says. “Hitting people with a stickball bat, getting yanked. A classic West Side Story case: Irish and Italian gangs versus the Puerto Rican gangs.”
Helping his mother out at Macy’s, Kelly read about the NYPD cadet program, which he thought could finance his law-school tuition.
“Kelly has made it believable that he is all that is standing between the citizens of New York and destruction.”
“It wasn’t like I was ‘Hey, I always wanted to be a cop,’ ” Kelly says.
One concern was his height. In the early sixties, the NYPD had a height requirement of five eight. He looks to be right on the edge. Before his medical exam, one source who worked with Kelly for years claims, the police commissioner spent several nights sleeping on a plywood board to straighten his back and increase his height. He was then driven to the exam in a station wagon, lying flat in the back.
“A mythological thing,” Kelly says. “I think it’s kind of an old wives’ tale. It didn’t happen to me, but it may have happened [to other cops].”
Early on, Kelly put the NYPD on hold, enrolled in the Marines, and shipped out to Vietnam. His older brothers were Marines, and Kelly was pining for a way to prove himself. If he hadn’t married his high-school sweetheart, Veronica, and had his sons, Jim, a computer analyst, and Greg, now a news anchor who hosts his father on Fox 5, Kelly would have considered a career in the military. In the reserves, he rose to the rank of colonel.
“I liked the military life,” Kelly says. “They teach you self-sufficiency early on. I always say that I learned most of what I know about leadership in the Marine Corps. Certain basic principles stay with you—sometimes consciously, mostly unconsciously.”
One principle is that authority should look like authority. Hence Kelly’s meticulous attention to his clothes. His shirts are custom-made and laundered at Geneva, a shirtmaker. His tailor is Martin Greenfield, a Holocaust survivor who fits many big-name but not-so-big-bank-account pols for Savile Row–looking suits at Williamsburg prices.
“He does nice work,” Kelly says of Greenfield.
“He comes in for the smallest thing,” Greenfield says of Kelly. “He’s like all my clients, he likes to look good, and he likes when people tell him, ‘You look great.’ ”
After Kelly returned from Vietnam, he scored at the top of his class in the Police Academy. He patrolled the Upper West Side for only seven months before getting promoted. Some retired cops say Kelly’s swift ascent makes him a boss who doesn’t understand the street. “He’s not a cop,” says one retired chief, dismissively. “He’s on patrol for a blink of an eye and tells guys on patrol ten years how to do their jobs.” Says another, “He gives you all the ingredients to make shrimp scampi and says he wants sirloin steak.”
It was the combination of talent and ambition that sped Kelly’s rise in the force. He taught himself mnemonics, and now has a tremendous recall of information. “He could put an elephant to shame,” says one former underling. “It’s all in the suitcase upstairs.” Over the years, he would command precincts in Brooklyn and Queens, obtain a master’s degree from Harvard, and run the department’s Office of Management Analysis and Planning, which handled statistics in the pre-CompStat years. Then a two-star chief, Kelly was such a competent, intelligent force at headquarters that he was promoted over several superiors to the department’s No. 2 post: first deputy.
The Crown Heights riots in 1991 were arguably Kelly’s first public test. As a former commander of the 71st Precinct, Kelly was familiar with the neighborhood. But as a former Marine, Kelly was respectful of the command structure inside the department, even when the burden of controlling the riots fell down the ranks to the chief of detectives. Three days into the riots, Kelly finally stepped in and the riots were quelled.
In a state report following the riots, Kelly was criticized for failing to act sooner. “Although he did not have the responsibility for patrol services, Kelly had the authority to intervene,” state officials concluded. “It is regrettable that, under the circumstances, Kelly did not deem it appropriate to seek an active role.” Kelly claimed he hadn’t comprehended the scale of violence. “In retrospect, I should have been there,” Kelly told the Post at the time.
After the riots, then-Commissioner Lee Brown, who bore the brunt of the criticism, resigned, and Mayor David Dinkins, a former Marine, appointed Kelly acting police commissioner. If he delayed in Crown Heights, Kelly made up for it in streamlining the flow of information in the notoriously sluggish department and working to restore the police bond with the aggrieved. On Sunday mornings, like a politician on the stump, Kelly made the rounds at churches in black neighborhoods, attempting to establish better community relations. But perhaps the most significant moment of his tenure came in February 1993, after a car bomb exploded under the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Dinkins was in Japan, so it was Kelly who stepped in front of the cameras. He was such a reassuring presence after the attack that Bill Clinton interviewed him for the post of FBI director. Inside police headquarters, Kelly proved to be a hands-on boss. Working late at night—as the crack epidemic in the city began to subside, the crime statistics began their long decline, and the number of murders dipped below 2,000—Kelly would use the kitchen that abuts his office to cook meals for aides and detectives working on his security detail.
“I make good meatballs,” Kelly says. His secret?
“I’ll tell you the secret, but you’ll probably put the secret out.”
Then he tells me anyway. “My secret is sautéed onions. The onions give it moisture. You just got to cut them real small.
“I like Sicilian food,” he continues. “It’s real peasant food. They use everything. It’s like spleen, things like this.”
Despite the support Kelly was able to build, his boss Dinkins lost the election to Rudy Giuliani, who picked Boston’s even-more-media-friendly Bill Bratton as police commissioner. During the transition, Kelly attempted to dismantle his brain trust, sources say. “He wanted literally no institutional memory, a blank slate,” says a former aide from this period. “He wanted Bratton to fall on his ass.” The NYPD’s chief spokesman, Paul Browne, says the charge is “utter nonsense,” considering Browne himself and other loyalists remained at headquarters until after the transition. Kelly insists he wasn’t bent out of shape after getting overlooked by Giuliani. “I sort of anticipated that,” he says. “I went on to other things.”
After three decades at the NYPD, Kelly’s next job—not reported on in his official biography—was in the private sector. Seven months after leaving One Police Plaza, Kelly became the New York president of Investigative Group International, Inc., a P.I. firm that has been referred to as “Bill Clinton’s private CIA” and that Dinkins had hired to prepare the opposition research on Giuliani. In the fall of 1994, IGI was awarded a no-bid contract by President Clinton’s State Department, and Kelly went to Haiti to lead a group of police monitors on the island, accompanied by Browne. A former reporter who keeps a bag of cigars nearby and whom police-beat reporters chide as “Kelly’s Karl Rove,” Browne has been with Kelly for so long he’s become Kelly’s most trusted adviser.
“Paul lost 30 pounds down there eating the Haitian diet,” Kelly says.
“One day I saw how meat was transported, I became a vegetarian,” Browne says.
“Pork tartare,” Kelly says. “They had the skinniest pigs in the world down there.”
On his return to New York, Kelly coyly refused to rule out an attempt to oust the mayor who had ousted him. “As I’ve said before, I never say never,” Kelly told the Daily News in 1995 about a possible challenge to Giuliani.
Instead, he went to Washington as the undersecretary of enforcement in the Treasury Department and later took the lesser post of Customs commissioner. Before the 2001 mayor’s race, Kelly accepted a $450,000-a-year security job with Bear Stearns. He lunched with reporters and often raised his eyebrows at the crime victories of his successors. Of the sweeping declines in reported crimes under Giuliani, Kelly said he thought it was unfair for the police to take credit when so many other factors contribute to increases and decreases in crime.
“It’s like trying to take credit for an eclipse,” Kelly told Time.
Bratton, who was also eventually pushed out of One Police Plaza by Giuliani, endorsed Mark Green. Kelly met with Bloomberg, who was then the underdog, and reviewed his policy papers on criminal justice, giving pointers. Bloomberg has since given Kelly more autonomy as head of the Police Department than any other commissioner in the city’s history. Kelly and Bloomberg get along so well Bloomberg gives Kelly lifts on his private jet. Bloomberg goes to Bermuda. Kelly and his wife get off in Florida, where they have a weekend retreat.
“It’s great,” Kelly says of flying Air Bloomberg. “Only way to travel.”
The traffic is choking up Second Avenue. The bunker is stuck.
“You ever have pasta con sarde in a can?” Kelly says.
We were talking recipes earlier.
“The yellow can,” he says. “Don’t ask me why, it’s from Italy but it has German writing on it. It has fennel. Just take it, heat it, put in on pasta. It’s actually very good.”
These days, Kelly can’t remember the last time he cooked for his detectives. His nights are booked. He’s now a permanent fixture on the red-carpet circuit, cavorting with cigar chompers like Ron Perelman, starlets like Jennifer Lopez. He recently recruited Bloomberg’s old crush Sharon Stone to appear at a benefit for the New York City Police Foundation, a nonprofit that funds many of Kelly’s projects.
The foundation has also helped Kelly revamp his and the NYPD’s image. In 2007, the foundation hired HL Group, a marketing company that promises to “increase brand equity” and “furthers client presence at an exponential rate within respective circles.” The foundation put HL Group on an $8,500-a-month retainer, according to a foundation source. While it has been blurry which brand HL is boosting—the police commissioner’s or that of the foundation that pays the bills—Kelly has proved to be an able rainmaker in the black-tie crowd.
The foundation also funds what some might consider Kelly’s own CIA. The city charter forbids cops on the NYPD payroll to work in other law-enforcement jurisdictions, so when he returned to headquarters, Kelly started the International Liaison Program, where NYPD detectives are sent to Tel Aviv, Amman, London, Lyon, Madrid, Paris, Montreal, Singapore, Santo Domingo, Abu Dhabi, and Toronto. The mission is for the NYPD to develop its own relationships with foreign intelligence officers and report back to the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, which is run by David Cohen, a former CIA official who is so secretive he refused to give out his age when asked (“between 28 and 70”).
The arrangement has tweaked the NYPD’s counterparts in the FBI, who have their own agents deployed overseas. Mark Mershon, the former assistant director of the bureau’s New York field office, says that while some units within the two agencies work together, many NYPD officials do not share information. “Some strong personalities in the mix,” Mershon says.
Asked which ones, Mershon says, “David Cohen.”
If Cohen wants to make the NYPD a player in the global-intelligence game, he and the department need to prove themselves in developing real information about terrorist plots. The race to break cases is such that intelligence officers joke that NYPD guys and FBI guys bump into one another leaving the mosque. To date, Kelly says, the NYPD has deterred eleven terrorist plots. Some cases have been made public, some not, and deterring plots has not always gone smoothly.
Last fall, Cohen’s Intelligence Division received a tip about a possible Al Qaeda operative named Najibullah Zazi, who was driving to New York. The Intel cops showed Zazi’s photo to an informant, a Queens Imam, to gather information about Zazi before any bombs went off.
The Feds were also watching Zazi. Over a wiretap, they heard about his plans to come to New York and alerted the Port Authority police, who pulled over Zazi as he drove over the George Washington Bridge and searched his car, failing to detect two pounds of explosives. His suspicions raised by the search, Zazi thought his cover was blown and flew back to his home in Colorado. Meanwhile, the NYPD’s informant, the Queens Imam, called Zazi and told him the authorities were asking questions about him. Overhearing the conversation, the Feds scrambled to arrest Zazi in Colorado and were forced to end a long-term investigation. The Feds were furious that Kelly and his NYPD Intel Division used an informant who blew their investigation.
Kelly can’t see what the Feds are fussing about. No bombs went off.
“I see no problems there,” he says, and calls the NYPD-FBI rift “overblown.” He pushes the blame back on Washington. “There’s lots of people who like to keep the notion of a rift in play. I think perhaps a lot of retired people from the bureau like to fan this flame. Why? I’m not certain, because it can never go back to this subservient relationship. We have to be total participants in the game … We are in the business of protecting the city and preventing an attack.”
Civil-rights lawyer Ron Kuby, who represents the Queens Imam, says the Zazi case shows that as much as the FBI and the NYPD talk about a “seamless” relationship, there isn’t one. “They really don’t talk,” he says. And each entity weighs the mission differently. “In fairness to Ray Kelly—and God I hate to use that expression—he’s not going to let a suspected Al Qaeda operative drive across the George Washington Bridge with two pounds of TATP. Ray Kelly’s goal is to make sure none of these batshit-crazy motherfuckers blow up New York. And if it compromises a long-term investigation, so be it.”
“I have an iPad,” Kelly says. “It’s really cool. One of the programs is Beat the Traffic. On the BlackBerry, you can get traffic. You can speak into it. But on the iPad, it shows you where the traffic is in cities all over the world. And it shows you where the cameras are. So you can plug right into the cameras and check it out. Pretty cool.”
Kelly has an abiding faith in the power of technology. NYPD officials are now studying ways in which computer programs can use algorithms for the city’s increasing number of surveillance cameras to detect terrorists who are maybe circling around a terrorist target (or looking for a parking space) or clusters of corpses that have fallen as the result of a deadly chemical attack.
Human intelligence is critical, too, and many feel Kelly’s emboldened Intel Division has gone too far. Since after the RNC convention in 2004, Lieberman’s NYCLU has been suing the NYPD to turn over thousands of undercover documents produced by Intel detectives who traveled across the country and abroad to infiltrate political and anarchist groups and then created files of their findings.
The NYPD’s dealings with the FBI“Never can go back to this subservient relationship,” Kelly says.
“Billionaires for Bush is an activist group forged as a mockery of the president,” states an Intel Division report unearthed by the Times. “Preliminary intelligence indicates this group is raising funds for expansion and support of anti-RNC activist organizations.”
The NYPD arrested 1,806 protesters—rather than simply writing summonses—which kept them off the streets during the convention. Protesters were taken to Pier 57, a bus depot that became known as Guantánamo on the Hudson, where arrestees said they had to sleep on cold floors slick with bus oil. The vast majority of RNC arrests were tossed out, and lawsuits have cost the city more than $8 million in settlements and attorney fees.
“That’s the cost of doing business here for us,” Kelly says. “Don’t forget you had groups saying they were going to close the city down. It simply didn’t happen. The aftermath is inevitable in this city when litigation is just the name of the game.” (Business is a favored Kelly metaphor. “This is our business,” he told me once. “To think the unthinkable.” Then another time: “This is our business, my business … I’ve been in this business 40 years!”)
Kelly’s more pressing issue with civil libertarians is the department’s “stop and frisk” policy. The majority of those getting stopped are black and Hispanic. “It’s completely stereotyping,” says Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been suing the NYPD to release its stop-and-frisk data for the last decade. “What we have is cops harassing people in black and brown neighborhoods, hoping they might find something.” Yet data show more guns are recovered from whites than minorities.
And the yield is low. From 576,394 stops in 2009, the highest number ever, police recovered 762 guns. The weapons recovery (including guns, knives, razor blades, and “other”) was 7,201. That’s .13 percent and 1.25 percent, respectively.
It’s well worth it, to Kelly. “The tactic is a lifesaver,” he says. “Critics complain ‘the stops don’t represent the demographics of the city.’ Well, no kidding. Otherwise half the people we stop would be women. Does that make sense to anybody?”
Though few dispute that crime is still near historic lows, the accuracy of the NYPD’s crime statistics is also a concern. Earlier this year, a survey that was passed around to retired senior officers suggested manipulation of crime reports was widespread.
“CompStat has perverted crime analysis in the city,” one retiree said.
“Pressures to downgrade crime led to manipulation,” another said.
“Trouble getting numbers,” said another. “Just want more and more. Pressure sometimes from City Hall.”
While Kelly dismissed the survey, claiming the methodology was faulty, another scandal over crime reports was brewing in a Bedford-Stuyvesant precinct, where a whistle-blowing patrolman, Adrian Schoolcraft, was concerned about pressure to downgrade crimes. Schoolcraft wore a secret recording device in the precinct house. Snippets of his conversations with other officers were recently published in The Voice. “I saw a 61,” one cop said, “a civilian punched in the face, menaced with a gun, and his wallet was removed. They wrote ‘lost’ property.”
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.”
Paul Browne denies allegations that Veronica used detectives on Kelly’s detail to run errands and race to engagements with lights and sirens on, but acknowledges that she is given rides to appear alongside Kelly at events. More recently, Veronica, as well as other members of Kelly’s family, has been given a security detail from the Intel Division, after death threats were received, Browne says.
Kelly’s disciplined work ethic, his command of the NYPD, the steady downtick of crime, and his name recognition made him a momentary favorite in the 2009 mayor’s race—that is, before his boss, Bloomberg, decided to go for a third term. While Kelly denied it, even saying that he “had no desire” to run for public office, sources say he did entertain the idea, even meeting privately with Republican strategist Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign. While Browne claims Kelly and Reed merely bumped into each other at an event, a source close to Reed says the two met at the behest of a mutual friend “to see what [a campaign] might look like.”
Reed and Kelly spoke in the midtown office of one of Reed’s clients for roughly 40 minutes, the source says. One topic was how Kelly, as a registered independent, would navigate the party system in New York. A more critical one was Kelly’s relationship with Bloomberg. Reed asked Kelly if he would be running with Bloomberg’s endorsement. “I don’t know,” Kelly said, according to the source. (Browne says the meeting with Reed never happened, and insists Kelly has never had mayoral aspirations.)
Kelly’s friend Guy Molinari says he spoke with Kelly on at least two occasions over the years to urge him to consider a run for mayor. “It’s not like he was telling me, ‘Guy, look, I’m not interested, stop pushing me,’ ” Molinari says. “He listened.”
There’s no obvious avenue open for Kelly. The federal post of Homeland Security director is filled. Same with the CIA. The post of FBI director will open up next year, but the appointment is for ten years, and Kelly is already past retirement age. But why would Kelly want to move to Washington and deal with agencies so big he couldn’t control them? He’s custom-fitted his NYPD to do some of the same work as all three. Plus, running the department with a Marine’s efficiency, he’s treated like a general.
At headquarters, Kelly squeezes into the private elevator. An official eyes Kelly’s Dunkin’ Donuts iced decaf cappuccino.
“Hey, that looks good,” he says.
“I tell you, you can find Dunkin’ Donuts … ” Kelly says.
“On your iPad?”
“You can talk into your BlackBerry and say ‘Dunkin’ Donuts’ and it comes up on a map,” Kelly says.
“I don’t want to stereotype, but after fortysomething years as a cop, can’t you just radar and find out where the Dunkin’ Donuts are?”
“Hey, stereotyping,” Kelly says.
On the fourteenth floor, the conference room is lined with flat screens and charts monitoring weekly statistics in the city’s eight borough commands. About 30 chiefs, commissioners, and senior officials sit around the conference table and deliver their briefs to Kelly at the head.
“This morning in the 6th Precinct, during a 250 [stop and frisk], a male fits the description of a burglar they’ve been having a problem with. So, looks like a good collar.”
“Commissioner, we have a foreign-government security detail that came in with too many weapons, and we’re in the process of cutting that way back, working directly with the government and State Department, clarifying that they gotta clear it with us first.”
Kelly does not say a word. He sits, listens. It’s as if he’s recording, like one of his cameras. His extreme self-control makes him seem remote, a little lonely.
Earlier in the day, he was sitting in the same seat and the conference room was empty. I asked him about his reputation as an intimidating boss.
“I think I’m easy to talk to,” he said, “but maybe it’s my Marine Corps experience. Maybe that comes across. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing.”
“Well, is it better to be loved or feared?”
He was fidgeting with his BlackBerry.
“I just want to get the job done,” he said.