National Security

NYPD Commissioner Chooses Security Over Politics

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As New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly directed the NYPD response to both the Times Square bomb attempt and the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. He tells host Scott Simon a 2013 mayoral run isn't happening.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This week, Faisal Shahzad, the man suspected in the failed Times Square bomb plot, reportedly told investigators that he considered targeting other major sites in New York, including Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center and the World Financial Center. New York Police Department officials have called that botched Times Square attempt the city's most serious car bomb plot since the first World Trade Center attack in 1993.

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly directed the NYPD response to both events, and his approach to dealing with a range of threats, from major acts of terrorism to street crime, is both cutting edge and sometimes controversial. Commissioner Kelly joins us now from New York. Commissioner, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. RAY KELLY (Commissioner, NYPD): Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about what Faisal Shahzad has said that we might need to hear?

Mr. KELLY: Well, I'll tell you, an awful lot has been put out in this case. You know, I'm somewhat constrained by what public documents have been put out by the U.S. attorney. So I'd rather now talk specifically about what he said during the question and answer process.

SIMON: But would it be fair to say we're not just talking about one target in his ambitions?

Mr. KELLY: Well, let's say that he has - there are some indications from people who have talked to him that he has been in New York City before. Let me also say this, that I think there's way too much information. I've never seen a case like this where so much information has been put out. And also this information was put out before this individual was taken into custody. So that's somewhat disturbing, because I think it made it more difficult for the investigators.

SIMON: The great Brooklyn philosopher, Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers, once said luck is the residue of design. Was New York just lucky that that bomb didn't work?

Mr. KELLY: Yeah. I think we certainly did have some luck in this case, no question about that. We have done an awful lot here, though, to protect the city, perhaps more than any other city anywhere.

SIMON: New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the NYPD this week for keeping records on people who were stopped and frisked by officers but never found guilty of a crime. What's your response to their concerns?

Mr. KELLY: Well, again, we're going to answer this case in court. But let me say in general, the stop-and-question procedures, in my judgment, are lifesavers, these lifesaving tactics we think that have resulted in the reduction in violence in New York City. Last year was the lowest number of murders that we've had since we started to accurately record murders, and that was in 1962. And the crime is down to record lows.

We've seen a spike in the first quarter of this year, but it's still one of the lowest years we've ever had.

SIMON: But I think their concern, though, is something that the Wall Street Journal, for example, pointed out too when they said that I guess between January 1 and March 31 of this year, of the 150,000 people that were stopped, just nine percent were whites, and whites obviously make up over 40 percent of the city's population. The implication being that the stop-and-frisk methods amount to racial profiling.

Mr. KELLY: Yeah. Well, if we were stopping and questioning people based on demographics, half the people we'd stop would be women. The reality is that we have more resources in the minority neighborhoods and about 90 percent of the victims of violent crimes in the city, and quite frankly, the perpetrators, are minorities. That's the reality with which we deal. And that means that, you know, a lot of the encounters that take place between the police and people acting in a suspicious manner are people of color.

SIMON: If there's one thing you could get done, one or two things you could get done that would make New York City safer over the next couple of years, what would they be?

Mr. KELLY: I'd like to have more police officers. We're down about 6,000 from where we were in 2001. That's because of the budget crisis. And I'd like to have the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative and the Midtown Manhattan Security Initiative fully in place. That's a program where we will ultimately network about 3,000 cameras in each of those locations, coupled with license light readers.

The cameras, they're not a panacea, they're not a cure-all, but they'll give us a higher level of safety. I think they'll act as a deterrent but also help us in conducting investigations.

SIMON: A lot of people are made uncomfortable by this proliferation of cameras, you know.

Mr. KELLY: I don't think so, I really don't. We haven't seen that. Any time it's polled, people just accept the fact that the world has changed and they accept cameras in public places. We're not saying, you know, to invade anyone's privacy, but there is no expectation, the Supreme Court tells us, for privacy in public spaces.

So that's just the way the world has evolved. I don't think the concern is there. And again, I want to stress, we're only talking about cameras in public areas.

SIMON: Saw a poll recently that said - they asked a thousand New Yorkers to give you, well, to give an approval rating, and 70 percent gave you a favorable approval rating. Which raises a question: Are you going to run for mayor?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KELLY: No. I have no, no desire, no intention to run for a public office. I'm going to stay out of politics and continue to do what I've been doing for the last 40 years, and that's, you know, working in law enforcement.

SIMON: Well, Commissioner Kelly, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. KELLY: Okay, Scott. Thank you.

SIMON: Ray Kelly, commissioner of the New York City Police Department.

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