The kids are finally asleep. Charlotte Hill* looks like she could use a good nap, too. She wearily blows a strand of auburn hair off her face. The toddler-induced fatigue, the small-liberal-arts-college degree—Hill could be an early-thirties Anymom. Until she starts talking about work. “My first shooting—some kid got shot. I think he died. Did he die?” Hill pauses, thinks. So many bullets, so many bodies in eight years as a city cop. “It was winter, but no snow. It was like ten at night, he got shot in the arm, and then the shooter had run back into the projects. The lieutenant just went crazy on us: ‘You guys fucked up the crime scene!’ Apparently we were all stepping on the shell casings. But the thing is, nobody had trained us!”
The blood didn’t bother her, and she gradually figured out the procedural stuff. But that first shooting was an introduction to dysfunction. “It’s just such a highly punitive and numbers-driven job, and it’s gotten infinitely worse over eight years,” Hill says. “You’re giving me a psychological test and sending me through an academy so I can learn how to have good judgment—and now you don’t want us to have any judgment. Every message is that the department doesn’t trust us. When a cop is out sick, we have to call in if we’re going to the doctor during our shift hours. I’m not kidding. And then they want to know why cops act like children.”
Hill wasn’t naïve when she joined the force: She’d grown up in a major city and understood that Police Department culture is about rank, discipline, and rules, and that the job often means dealing with nasty, even evil people. But as she’s become a skilled foot soldier, part of the rank and file that has strung together an extraordinary decade of declining crime statistics while foiling terrorist plots, Hill has grown uneasy about the dehumanizing cost of keeping the city safe. “You don’t realize how much everyone is going to hate you,” she says. “At least where I work now, people look at you and go, ‘I fucking hate you.’ And I go, ‘I fucking hate you, too.’ And then we move on. I have a harder time with overeducated, moneyed people. When I work on the Upper East Side, or in Downtown Brooklyn, people just talk down to you. We don’t feel supported by the courts, we don’t feel supported by the department. I think everyone would say they love being a cop”—she laughs ruefully—“and they hate being in the NYPD.”
Last year ended with a spate of unpleasant Police Department headlines. On Staten Island, an officer was caught on tape bragging he’d “fried another nigger,” then pleaded guilty to extortion and civil-rights charges. In Brooklyn, eight current and former cops were arrested by the FBI for smuggling guns, among other charges. The nasty run continued: In March, a Washington Heights cop was convicted of a gunpoint sexual assault.
The NYPD was also increasingly under attack for the tactics it has used to drive crime down to historical lows and to head off terrorist strikes. City Council members, prospective mayoral candidates, and civil-liberties groups have flailed the NYPD for stopping and frisking thousands of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers; a series of Associated Press stories has explored the department’s far-reaching surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods.
But while those debates raise important questions, they are largely about policy choices that can be either altered or continued by the next mayor and police commissioner. And the spate of outright criminal behavior by cops, ugly as it was, was not particularly aberrant: Any large organization is going to employ a handful of miscreants, and every police era has its share of corruption. More worrisome, to the functioning of the department and the maintenance of public safety, now and in the future, was the anger rumbling just below the surface of the NYPD—and, on a couple of occasions, bursting out into plain view. In September, cops contributed to a Facebook discussion on the raucous West Indian Day parade that labeled marchers “animals” and “savages.” In October, scores of cops converged on the Bronx County courthouse as sixteen of their colleagues were arraigned on ticket-fixing charges, waving signs reading JUST FOLLOWING ORDERS and some wearing T-shirts that said IMPROVING EVERYONE’S QUALITY OF LIFE BUT OUR OWN. The accumulation of woes and discontent made it look as if Commissioner Ray Kelly was suffering from something more than third-term drift. It looked as if he were losing control of his department.
Cop cynicism is an art form and a self-defense mechanism. You expect black humor and grousing about “the job” and “the bosses” whenever you interview police. What I also expected to hear when I began my conversations with cops of many different ranks, from many different parts of the city, was some well-deserved boasting about being part of the winningest team in Western urban-law-enforcement history. And there are plenty of cops who talk proudly about their colleagues’ acts of heroism or, more quietly, about their own small moments of doing good. But the collective NYPD mood is surprisingly dark. There’s something different about the current discontent. The complaints aren’t about the old standby, low pay; they’re about the systems the NYPD uses to bring down crime—systems that are fueling a bitterness that can interfere with the department’s ability to keep the city safe.
The disaffection from the public and anger at the department aren’t universal, but they are widespread, stretching across boroughs and ranks—and 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 time—more 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 Plaza—most likely in January 2014, when a newly elected mayor replaces Michael Bloomberg—he 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 achievements—the increase in everyday safety and the prevention of spectacular disasters—will 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 job—that 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.”
For all Perez’s enjoyment of his adventures—and pride that he never had to fire his weapon—what’s particularly interesting about his career is that it spans the CompStat era. He came onto the force five years before the arrival of Commissioner Bill Bratton and his colorful, innovative sidekick, Jack Maple, who brought New York policing into the modern-technology era. CompStat mapped crime data to show where patterns and trouble spots were forming. It also brought together commanders for regular meetings to share tactical expertise and ideas. But CompStat was also a necessary shock to a complacent system: Top brass grilled the field bosses, sometimes mercilessly, on what they were doing to solve problems, and if changes and solutions weren’t in place by the next meeting, transfers and demotions were made.
Most of those elements continue in the Kelly era, and they’ve been honed as better technology makes ever-more-detailed crime numbers available faster. Kelly’s close-cropped hair and squashed nose make him look like the classic Irish cop and Marine combat vet, and he’s authentically both. The part of his résumé that’s often overlooked is that Kelly has a master’s in public administration from Harvard, and he remains a fan of dispassionate analysis. CompStat’s role in reforming the department’s management practices has been well established and mythologized, but what’s less well understood is how CompStat’s focus on numbers has filtered down and permeated daily police life. Depending on your rank, it ranges from an annoying background hum to an ever-present pounding on the brain. For frontline supervisors in each precinct, preparing for the CompStat cross-examination inside One Police Plaza is a time-consuming task. One recent morning, for instance, it was the 113th Precinct in Queens on the griddle. Commanding officers stood at the podium at the open end of a horseshoe of tables; staring back at them were a dozen of the NYPD’s top brass, supported by a row of aides. The deputy commissioner of operations at the time, Patrick Timlin, was incredulous: “We can muster one collar? One legitimate robbery collar? In 28 days?”
“This is not an excuse, but … ”
“There are no buts!” Timlin interrupted. “The 113, awright, is one of the top places in the city, for robberies, for shootings, awright? It’s a big, big dog. We can’t operate with one collar from the squad, awright?”
Timlin pulled out a report on the unsolved theft of a 14-year-old’s iPhone on a city bus. “Where’s the urgency?” he demanded. “This kid gets robbed, walks in [at 8 a.m.], and at 22:11 at night, we go out and do a witness canvass! Has the bus driver been interviewed?”
“The bus driver has not been interviewed.”
“How is that possible?”
“We don’t know which bus driver it is at this point.”
“How many bus drivers drive that route at eight in the morning? I think we could probably figure that out … I have a plan here, and it’s now been six weeks. And we’re not seeing any changing course.”
“Chief, that was specifically directed toward burglaries … ”
Timlin interrupted. “No! … It was directed toward performance in the squad. That statement is totally unacceptable, awright? … You can stand up there and tell me that we couldn’t do it because we had seven homicides that day. Then I’ll accept that. But when you say, we were told to do it on burglaries, that’s outrageous!”
If this were a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight. The Queens cops tried to plead a shortage of manpower and got no sympathy. “But it’s the truth,” another cop says later. “There simply aren’t enough cops to do everything they want. But you can’t say that. And so everything flows downhill.”
The heat put on supervisors in CompStat gets passed to middle management, then on to the cops in the street. In some respects, the urgency and attention to detail are inspiring. “If you have a bunch of shootings on, say, Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn, there are very few people or agencies—including City Hall, HRA, homeless services, Consumer Affairs, the nonprofit poverty groups—who give a shit about these corners as much as the Police Department,” says a Bloomberg-administration veteran. “The degree of accountability in the Police Department is pretty intense: ‘Where is the ATM? What did you do about the witnesses?’ It’s their job to make those numbers go down, and it’s their motivation for career advancement, and so they care very deeply.”
Cops say that CompStat sometimes gets warped into numbers for numbers’ sake, and it grinds at community relationships. “I grew up in the South Bronx, and in the summer we’d throw a football in the street at night,” an eighteen-year veteran lieutenant says. “The cops would roll by and say, ‘Fellas, just keep it quiet.’ Now we need to make the number, so we write all those kids summonses for dis con—disorderly conduct. And they grow up hating cops.”
To Kelly, “stop, question, and frisk” is an essential tool used to get weapons off the street, especially in high-crime precincts. For the commissioner, the important facts are a 51 percent reduction in homicides compared to the previous decade and the seizure of more than 8,000 weapons, including 819 guns, in the past year. To critics, however, stop-and-frisk has become a ritualized harassment of neighborhoods—with just 12 percent of last year’s record 684,330 stops leading to arrests or summonses and one percent to the recovery of a weapon—and racist, with 87 percent of those stopped being black or Hispanic.
Yet cops say both arguments miss an important point: that stop-and-frisk is an easy way for supervisors to feed the statistical beast, to show that action is being taken to deal with spikes in crime.
“There’s all this talk about stop-and-frisks, whether it’s racist or harassment, but the public totally misses the game,” a Brooklyn cop says. “You know all the guys in the neighborhood, and usually when we roll up they frisk themselves. That is, if it’s a night they don’t feel like being bothered, they just lift up their shirts when we stop, and then they move on. If they feel like making a point to the boys they’re hanging with on the corner, they won’t do it. But the people who carry guns and shoot each other where I work are not white. There are no white people to begin with! But I always laugh. The civil-liberties people are the reason we have stop-and-frisk reports in the first place. The theory was, if cops were forced to write down what they were doing, they wouldn’t be so haphazard about stopping people and frisking them. But because the department loves data, now those reports are activity that can prove you’re taking action at CompStat.”
Two cops—Adrian Schoolcraft of Brooklyn and Craig Matthews of the Bronx—have taken the rare path of filing lawsuits alleging that they were persecuted for complaining about statistical manipulation and quotas. Schoolcraft says he was handcuffed by fellow cops and committed to a hospital psychiatric ward for six days. Others play along, saying they have come to know what’s expected. “You show up to someone who had their iPhone snatched, but you don’t put it over the air because you don’t know if it’s gonna be a crime yet,” a Manhattan cop says. “We have to bring the victim back to the station, where he’s gonna be waterboarded by the sergeant: ‘Are you sure you didn’t drop your phone?’ Next thing you know, it’s lost property. ‘Hey, maybe I left it on the train! Maybe it fell out of my pocket when I got punched in the face!’ ”
Cops fear a more serious consequence of the push for better numbers, that it propels colleagues forward in borderline situations. This February, in the Bronx, a narcotics cop chased 18-year-old Ramarley Graham into the bathroom of his family’s apartment. Officer Richard Haste suspected Graham of carrying a gun; during a struggle he shot and killed the unarmed man. One ex-cop, who has worked some of the same streets as Haste, says it appears tragic tactical mistakes were made. “But it’s important to remember that cops always have the need for numbers in their minds,” he says. “It might not be the top cause of what happened, him chasing the guy into the house, but it’s part of the motivation getting you to that position. You’re trying to get in there and get that body. So is it the pressure of ‘I can’t let this guy get away’? Or is he a number?”
Any large organization that keeps much of its top management team in place for a long period—and enjoys a mostly successful run—is vulnerable to rust. “Ray has become a little more hardened, a little more sure of himself, and unwilling to move or budge,” a former Kelly aide says. The commissioner is trying to combat stasis by hiring McKinsey, the management-consulting firm, to review the department from top to bottom. And in 2009, Kelly brought in Timlin, who’d been a respected senior commander in the Bronx and supervisor of detectives in Queens before retiring to run a private security company. Timlin led CompStat meetings for two years before returning to the private sector in February, but he also explored ways to invigorate the department, with a special focus on improving leadership in the crucial middle ranks, where CompStat’s pressures are turned into street action.
Kelly’s allies forcefully dispute the conventional wisdom that CompStat dominates the department’s every action. “The perception that CompStat numbers drive everything and affect people’s careers, it’s absolutely not true,” Timlin tells me this spring. “To read these books and articles, there’s like a slaughterhouse going on. The margins are narrower—we’re down 70 percent in crime in eighteen years in some places—and there will be blips that can look like huge spikes, statistically. That’s recognized. Commanders are not being flopped for crime going up. If people demonstrate best efforts, nobody’s being moved.”
Kelly says the department’s Quality Assurance Division is constantly examining crime reports, and any fudging is swiftly punished. Internal statistical audits, say NYPD insiders, are regular and rigorous, though no one will ever claim perfection. “Is it a cop in a radio car who is too lazy to take a report? Or is it something more systematic, where people are told, ‘Listen, don’t show up here with these type of complaint reports’?” Timlin says. “All those things can occur. I’m not naïve. But it’s very, very rare.” In January 2011, Kelly appointed a three-member panel to investigate whether crime-downgrading exists, and promised a report within six months. One panel member has since died, and the report is still in the works.
The newspapers were full of NYPD news on February 1. Most of it was topped by large headlines: In East Williamsburg, Officer Kevin Brennan had been shot in the head by a man wanted for questioning in connection to a homicide and miraculously survived. In the University Heights section of the Bronx, four cops were captured on cell-phone video pummeling a 19-year-old suspect. And seven alleged members of a violent gang that had terrorized the Ebbets Field housing project for years were indicted, thanks to the work of the NYPD.
Yet as Eugene O’Donnell flipped through the tabloids that morning, he stopped at a smaller item: “No Shirt, Sherlock—Cops barred from wearing NYPD gear.” Apparently Commissioner Kelly had spotted officers wearing gallows-humor T-shirts that bore an unapproved Police Department logo. Kelly issued an order declaring that all NYPD personnel, on and off duty, were forbidden from wearing unlicensed T-shirts. “Compared to the other stuff in the papers today, this seems silly,” O’Donnell says, “but it’s not silly to cops. None of them would ever trivialize the shooting of a fellow officer. But to the rank and file, the T-shirt thing is much more relevant and annoying, because it’s emblematic of what day-to-day life in the department has become.”
O’Donnell worked as a cop in Brooklyn, then became a prosecutor; he now teaches criminal-law courses to aspiring cops at John Jay College. “The NYPD is an agency of extremes. It can disappoint you beyond belief, and then it can do something incredible, like the hostage team or the anti-terrorism stuff,” he says. “The T-shirt thing, there’s other approaches besides taking the hammer to everybody and saying they can’t wear anything with the NYPD on it. How about a letter from Kelly that says, ‘Dear colleague, is this the image we want to portray?’ Instead there’s a top-down, blanket order that allows them to catch anyone who slips up. You create a culture that says, ‘If we’re all co-defendants, I’m going to join hands with the knucklehead.’ That’s what you saw at the ticket-fixing case: ‘I don’t fix tickets, but if everybody’s going to be blanketly indicted, then we have to protect ourselves.’ ”
The case began with allegations that Jose Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct, was working with a reputed drug dealer. After a three-year investigation, Ramos was charged with dozens of crimes, including attempted grand larceny and transporting what he believed to be heroin. But wiretaps of Ramos led to 1,600 other criminal counts, most of them misdemeanors related to officers overheard allegedly arranging to make tickets disappear. Whether rightly or wrongly, cops howled, claiming the practice had long been accepted and was now being criminalized for the sake of the department’s image. Roughly a hundred off-duty officers showed up on a day when sixteen of their colleagues were being indicted on charges of fixing tickets and chanted, “Ray Kelly, hypocrite!”
Perez wasn’t at the profane protest, but he’s similarly disgusted. “They want to make it sound like it was something more than it was, but it’s a courtesy that’s gone on since the first cop walked the beat,” he says. “It’s something that develops goodwill in the neighborhood, not bribes. Besides, you get calls from commanding officers, state senators, everybody, asking you to tear up tickets. And now you’re gonna punch these cops because someone asked for a favor?”
Richie Cameron applied to the NYPD out of patriotism after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Assigned to housing projects, he set about protecting his hometown from everyday criminals. “Not to puff my chest out, but the bosses saw me in a positive light,” he says. “I brought in seven or eight arrests a month. Other cops were pissed off at that: They’ll toss your locker upside down, pee in your shoes, because you’re making them look bad. There really aren’t quotas, and the numbers game only affects people who are neglecting their duties. But the department is all about retribution, from the high-level politics to the low-level precinct relationships. It’s how they keep guys in check.”
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.”
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.