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May the Force Be With You

by Raymond Kelly, May 10, 2004
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Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly

When an operative for al-Qaeda named Lyman Farris came to New York, his plan was to take down the Brooklyn Bridge and derail some railway cars. But he looked at the heightened security in the vicinity of the bridge, and changed his mind; the “weather was too hot” to complete the operation.

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This one incident was prevented, then, thanks to the counterterrorism policing work of the New York Police Department. Our successes in this area are usually a lot more difficult to measure.

We are now, of course, in a new era. When I came back as police commissioner in New York, having served ten years ago under Mayor David Dinkins, the biggest change for the police in New York was obvious -- the threat of terrorism. It has had an impact on virtually every decision the department has made.

But counterterrorism is just one of the "three C's" that the police department under the Bloomberg administration continues to focus on. We are also moving forward on crime reduction and community relations.

COUNTERTERRORISM

Since 9/11, the police department has taken serious steps to defend our city against terrorism.

We have put into place a counterterrorism bureau, really the first of its kind in the country, which now has 250 officers, and we have reformed our intelligence division.

We have identified people with language skills in the department and certified them. We now have certified 45 Arabic speakers -- more, we believe, than any federal agency that we’re aware of. We have even made them available to federal agencies. In addition, we have Urdu, Pashto, and Hindi speakers.

We have assigned detectives overseas – to Lyon, London, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Montreal, and Singapore. In March, we had someone in Madrid the day of the bombing on that city’s subway. Our world has gotten smaller, and we need information of any sort that’s going to help us better protect this city.

With the advent of the Iraqi war we’ve put in place something called Operation Atlas, which is an overlay security program for sensitive locations throughout the city. We have kept that program in place. Today, we have critical response vehicles that come into Manhattan every day from other locations in the city.

Average New Yorkers are also being more vigilant, and we ask people to continue to look at things through the prism of 9/11. Depending on what is in the news, our counterterrorism hotline averages from 30 to 60 calls a day. There are some very thoughtful calls, many about people taking pictures of infrastructure. We also get many bomb scares and powder droppers.

We log those calls in – we have a database where we log those calls. If that location shows up again, then we’re able to match it with previous calls.

There’s just a lot going on, and it’s an expensive undertaking. We believe it cost us close to $200 million for our counterterrorism programs in the city last year. We’re not getting enough money. In addition, a lot of this money is skewed towards equipment, and not structured for operational costs. We need money for operation expenses on an ongoing, day-to-day basis, not just for equipment.

CRIME PREVENTION

I believe that in certain areas, our counterterrorism tactics are benefiting our crime prevention efforts. On the subway, for instance, crime is the lowest it has been since it has been accurately recorded in the 1960s, which may be in part due to our aggressive counterterrorism efforts.

In other areas, we are looking to combine some of the things we’ve done in counterterrorism with our crime prevention programs, by doing things like incorporating our Hercules program into Operation Impact.

In Operation Impact, we took off across the city and identified locations, primarily based on shootings, that in our view would benefit from an infusion of uniformed police officers alongside officers from narcotics and from the warrant squad. We picked 21 such locations, and put two thirds of our police academy graduating classes from 2003 in these areas. As a result of that infusion of visible police officers crime went down 35 percent in those impact zones in 2003, with shootings down 50 percent. We are seeing the same numbers now in the Impact Zones for 2004.

Now this may not sound revolutionary, but at a time when we have 5,000 fewer officers than we had in October of 2000, this is the type of technique that enables us to continue to reduce crime. Crime rates are now down over three and a half percent this year, after dropping six percent last year, and five percent the year before.

To continue this trend, we’re establishing a crime information center, which will hopefully be functioning by the middle of this summer. We have already established a room at police headquarters; there will be screens that graphically depict crime and we ultimately intend to get that information on PDA’s, hand held devices. The intention is to gather information on a real time basis, digitally analyze it, and push it back out to the field as quickly as possible.

We will use this as an adjunct to Compstat, which is a valuable auditing tool that looks retrospectively at what commands have done to address crime. The police foundation has been very helpful in assisting to put this capacity in place, and obviously the mayor is very interested and involved as well. So that’s the next wave of crime fighting: information.

COMMUNITY RELATIONS

All members of the department are aware of the need to communicate with the public. Throughout their careers, we have them in service training. I think our community relations are better now than they’ve ever been.

But every day is a new day in New York, and when we make a mistake in this business, it costs people’s lives.

In the recent shooting of Timothy Stansbury in a Brooklyn housing project, the police department made a mistake, and we said so. It is the policy of this administration, if you make a mistake, to get the facts out as quickly as possible. That’s what we did in the Stansbury case, just as we did with terrible tragedy of Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack after several officers mistakenly raided her apartment. I think it cooled the environment.

If you have the facts and they’re obvious, you should get them out, but that is unusual. The Stansbury shooting in Brooklyn was a very simple case: there were two officers together, and one officer observed what happened. There were witnesses in terms of the tangential events that were going on that indicated right away that this was a mistake, so it wasn’t complex. Other shootings are more complicated; it all depends on the circumstance.

It is the nature of police work that we’re going to have tension with some communities because of what we do. We are sometimes the bearer of bad news. We give out traffic summonses, we arrest people, we use force, sometimes deadly force; it’s the nature of police business. People are not always going to love you in some places.

We’re not firefighters – everybody loves a firefighter.

So we have to work on community relations, and I think precinct commanders as a group do a tremendous job in fostering and understanding communications in the communities. We have 76 precincts, and the commanders of these precincts spend a large percentage of their time focused on fostering communication in their communities.

They know they have to do that.

BUILDING A FORCE

Other than terrorism, the biggest change since I left the department is the size of the organization. There has been a merger of the housing police force, the transit police force, all the school safety agents, and traffic enforcement agents. So the department increased significantly in size.

We now have about 51,000 employees.

Though the department has grown, the loss of officers to attrition is an ongoing issue in the police department. We have 5,000 fewer officers below our level in the fall of 2000, because of the budget situation that we find ourselves in. At this time, we have about 36,000 officers; we’re authorized to employ 37,000 officers. We’ll hire up to reach that number in July of that year.

Much of the current loss has its roots as far back as the 1970s. In 1975 there were layoffs in the department because of the serious fiscal crises. The department didn’t start hiring in a significant way until the 1980s. Those people are reaching their twentieth year anniversary, when they can retire at half pay. When police officers hit their twentieth anniversary, about 80 percent retire. Sergeants retire at about a 65 percent rate. So we know that we have to do a big job in recruiting additional people to the department.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, we’ve hired four large classes to address our attrition losses. We’re doing well with our recruiting, and our diversity is improving. The department is about 15 percent African American, about 20 percent Hispanic, and about 3 percent Asian. 16 percent of the department is female. We’re the city agency, I think, that best reflects the population of the city.

Attrition remains an ongoing issue. From recruiting to vetting to training new officers, it is a challenge. I think we’re doing that well. But those three C’s are what this administration is all about.

Raymond Kelly is the police commissioner of New York. This essay was adapted from comments he made at Baruch College.




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