Raymond W. Kelly

Law and Order, Part II

VTR Date: March 9, 1999

Guest: Kelly, Raymond W.


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Raymond W. Kelly
Title: Law and Order, Part II
VTR: 3/9/1999

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. And this is the second of two programs with a guest who is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and retired from the United States Marine Corps as a colonel, who holds law degrees from St. John’s and New York University, who was a cop for many, many years, indeed, was New York City’s top cop, it’s Police Commissioner, when he was last here on THE OPEN MIND, who in recent years was ordered to Haiti by the President of the United States to direct its international police monitors, then served as Under Secretary for Enforcement of the United States Treasury Department, and in 1998 became Commissioner of the United States Customs Service. In other words, as I noted last time, Raymond W. Kelly has been very much around the track and there’s very much more to ask him in this area of law and order.

In fact, Commissioner, I’d like to go back if I may to when, not this previous program, but when I last spoke with you as Commissioner, but top cop here in New York City. How do you rate the differences in the challenges that you face now and the challenges you faced then?

KELLY: Well, I knew much more about the New York City Police Department when I became Commissioner of the Police Department than I did of the Customs Service because I literally grew up in the organization. I started when I was nineteen years of age as a police cadet and worked in twenty-five different assignments in the department. The Customs Service is a great organization but it’s very complex. I had a lot to learn and I’m still learning. It is less hierarchical than the Police Department. It works kind of different, at a different pace, a different beat. But the challenges are great and I love them. I love being there. Every day is exciting. We have people that work twenty-four hours a day. We have truly a law enforcement agency, the oldest in the country. Twenty thousand employees are armed. We have one hundred and fourteen aircraft that fly missions over South America, over the Caribbean, and over our border. We have about a hundred fast boats that operate against smugglers in the Caribbean in what we call the ‘arrival zone’, areas close to the shore of the United States. So that sort of activity just makes for a very full day, you might say. We’re always engaged in lots of interesting, complex, demanding issues.

HEFFNER: Philosophically speaking, if I may, what’s the difference in level or intensity of the demands made upon you as top cop in New York and Commissioner of Customs?

KELLY: Well they’re both demanding jobs, no question about it. I’m working out in a different arena, the federal area, working with a Congress which is a little different than working with the City Council in New York.

HEFFNER: You smile.

KELLY: They’re much more demanding, much more involved in your operations. They are two demanding jobs that have some similarities, but some differences as well. And again, I guess the congressional involvement is something that comes to mind first. As Police Commissioner you’re dealing with the administration, as Customs Commissioner certainly you’re dealing with the administration, but you’re dealing with Congress to a great extent. And also, we’re in one hundred thirty locations throughout America. We’re in twenty-six countries. So that means a fair amount of travelling. Of course, in New York City everything is here. If you want to communicate with your employees in New York City as the Police Commissioner, it’s relatively easy to do. To communicate with the Customs employees you have to do a lot of travelling.

HEFFNER: What do you think has happened to the problems and the challenges that face the New York City Police Commissioner since your day, which is not that long ago?

KELLY: Well, I think some of the challenges are the same. I think there’s always been a challenge for as long as I can remember in dealing with minority communities. There’s always been a tension between the police and, certainly, the African American community and the Hispanic community. That hasn’t changed very much since I became a police officer thirty-something years ago.

HEFFNER: Could it?

KELLY: I think it can. It’s not easy to do, but I think it can. I think we need a department, any city, any community needs a department that, as best as it can, reflect the make-up, the ethnic make-up of the community that they police.

HEFFNER: Why is that?

KELLY: Why is that? It’s just that it is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do because it just enables you to police more effectively when problems arise as they inevitably will because of the nature of police work. If the community has trust in you, and often times that trust is translated into the police department having people that look like me and somebody that I can relate to, then it’s easier to deal with those problems. I think it is really the only way to operate. Now, most police departments, big city police departments, don’t adequately reflect the communities that they serve.

But there are attempts; I think good faith efforts to do that. When I was Police Commissioner there was an entry level examination that was going to be given. This was in ’93. And I looked at the preliminary results, you had to register that exam, and it just lacked adequate minority representation. I cancelled that test, I actually asked Mayor Dinkins if I could do that and he said yes, and embarked on sort of my own recruitment program. I don’t know if you remember this but I went to African American churches extensively. We created a hundred person recruiting unit, just detailed into our kind of core recruiting operation, for a six-month period of time. We were able to recruit to take that test, and they did actually that test, the highest absolute number of minorities, the highest percentage of minorities on an entry-level test. That test was taken in June of 1993. Now, because in the interim the administration, the new administration, put in a requirement of a two-year college degree or at least two years of college credits, and that wasn’t the requirement for this particular test that I’m talking about, they didn’t hire anyone from that list.

But my point is that I think you can do it, I think if you can go out and you can recruit minority candidates. It’s not easy because there is this kind of mistrust, no question about it. You have to try to overcome that. But we, for instance, in New York are in the advertising capital of the world. I don’t know if we have fully used those resources to get a message out, a message that says if in fact you want to effect change the best place to effect change is from inside. And yet, people who have two years of college credits, I think that’s a good requirement and I think you can get those people from the minority community. Is it harder? Absolutely, much more difficult, but I think you can make efforts like that, that show the community that you are sincere.

HEFFNER: You obviously have feelings too about weaponry. I couldn’t help but take note of this op-ed piece you wrote for the New York Times in February of ’99, talking about the “9-Millimeter Revolution”. What’s your feeling? What were you getting at in this piece about the nature of the challenge facing the New York City Police Department vis-à-vis minorities and the question of the caliber of guns they have?

KELLY: Well, I was asked to put the move towards 9-millimeter handguns in some historical perspective because I was Police Commissioner when that decision was made. I made that decision to move to 9-millimeter semi-automatic handguns.

HEFFNER: The semi-automatic that we’re concerned about.

KELLY: Semi-automatic. And it talks in there about how we had revolvers. They were certainly adequate. They were reliable. You can have a revolver sitting in a drawer for twenty years, take it out, pull the trigger, and the gun would work. But in the 80s, the climate, the atmosphere changed. We had drug gangs getting high-tech weapons, TEC-9s, their own semi-automatic handguns, 9-millimeters. And the police felt outgunned, and in fact they were. They were outgunned. So there was a movement that arose, using federal forfeiture funds initially, to purchase semi-automatic handguns for various police departments throughout the country. And New York City did it as well. We purchased, I think a couple of thousand of them. And we started a pilot project. There were always concerns about overshooting because of the capacity of semi-automatic handguns; sixteen rounds, seventeen rounds in some of them. We knew that when the adrenaline starts to flow then bullets will fly.

In New York City, police officers involved in gun battles hit their targets about 20% of the time. So that means one in five rounds are striking their target, and the other rounds are, you know, endanger, potentially endanger the rest of the public. So we were aware of these concerns. And we did this pilot study with these, roughly, two thousand handguns. And we didn’t see, with the exception of maybe a couple of outliers, we didn’t see any inordinate or anything that would really raise the level of concern. There was some legislation that was going to be put in, in Albany that may have allowed police officers to carry any gun, you know, which was certainly something we didn’t want. So based on the pilot project, based on this pressure that was coming down the pike we decided to – and also it was a class of about 1,700 recruits that were going in, so it was a question of what would they carry. We decided to move to semi-automatic handguns. But, we were of course aware of the concerns of overshooting, and that’s when I put in place the limitation to ten rounds in the magazine as kind of an acknowledgement of our concern of overshooting. So that was the historical perspective. That’s how it came to be.

Now, I also say in that article that I think we have to maybe look at that issue again, the capacity issue, and do some more situational training. It’s difficult when you have thousands of police officers that we have to train. They shoot twice a year. Most of that training is on accuracy, in other words shooting at a target. The target may be a bull’s-eye or it may be the silhouette of a person, but basically it’s accuracy. It is not situational in nature for the most part; you know, when should I shoot, when do I take out my gun, what are the multitude of situations where I might feel at risk and when should I draw my weapon, and when should I fire. That’s difficult to do because it’s a logistics nightmare. It takes time to do that. How do you take thousands of police officers and train them in that sort of environment? But it’s an area that I believe deserves some examination.

HEFFNER: If you were to be lifted up from Washington and placed back in New York City, what would you do about guns for cops?

KELLY: Guns for cops? Well, I don’t want to second guess the administration. It’s kind of unfair. It’s easy to sit here and kind of pontificate. I think that Commissioner Safir is doing a good job. It’s not an easy issue. I would say that those two things that I talked about, the capacity of semi-automatic weapons that the police are carrying and situational training should be looked at. The training, changing the training, when you think of now almost 40,000 police officers, it’s a very expensive proposition and there’s opportunity costs there. You’re taking police from their job to train them. You know, if you’re going to train them for a much longer period of time they’re taken away from their basic function. All of that has to be factored in. But as I said, I think those two areas should be examined.

HEFFNER: Look, I’m not asking you to second-guess Commissioner Safir, I wouldn’t. In a sense, I’m asking you to second-guess Ray Kelly. You were the Commissioner. What would you do differently now than you did when you were top cop?

KELLY: As far as guns are concerned?

HEFFNER: No, let’s widen it.

KELLY: Gee, I think I did a pretty good job.

HEFFNER: Oh, I know you did a pretty good job. But what would you different?

KELLY: I’m not certain what I would do different. I’d have to think about that. I made a lot of changes, and in a short period of time. I would like to have had more time to institutionalize some of those changes, but I can’t think of anything right now that’s glaring, jumps out. Right after I leave here I’ll think of ten things that I’d do differently. But, you know, I think I did a good job and I did my best.

HEFFNER: But Ray, I’m not talking about what errors were made. I’m really not. I’m talking about it’s a different world, not that much longer. Are there problems now that have been illumined over the past couple of years, by your own experience, by the experience of the NYPD that would lead you to say we’ve got to move along these lines, whether I’m here or not, we’ve got to move along those lines?

KELLY: Well, community policing is a concept that I believe in. Community policing basically is tailored policing, localized policing involving community leaders and involving them in problem solving, in problem identification in certain communities. I think that’s ultimately the only way to police in America. That has been backed-off from by this administration and other administrations throughout the country, you know, other municipal administrations.


KELLY: Because I think it’s mistakenly seen as being soft on crime, and it’s not. It could be hard on crime, it could be soft on crime; it is problem identification and then responding to that problem in an adequate way, whatever way is appropriate. If it means more arrests, fine, you arrest people. If it means more communication with people, fine. If it means quality of life issues have to be addressed by some of those arrests, you do that. But I think you have to involve the community, ultimately, in that process because it leads to an estrangement that is not healthy over time. It’s sort of, “We know best and don’t bother us, community. We’ll tell you what’s good for you.” And I think that is an issue in other localities as well as New York. I think you have to get closer to the community that you serve.

HEFFNER: There are people who say, this is true in many communities, the crime rate is down, but we paid another kind of price for that. Do you agree?

KELLY: Well I think the crime rate is down and that’s a good thing, but I think it’s down for a variety of reasons. It would be nice, it would be simple to say, “Hey it’s all good police work,” you know. Because crime was down every month when I was Commissioner, you know so I’d say, “Hey it’s only because of police work.” But it’s not. It’s more complex than that. And I think you do have to watch aggressive tactics on the part of the police. But I think the crime rate is down as a result of good police practice. I think it’s down as a result of shifting drug use patterns. I think it’s down as a result of more people being imprisoned. There are less young people in the vulnerable age categories that concern us. It’s kind of cohorts that move through society. Younger people are, percentage-wise are lower than they have been in a while and it’s going to come up again as we enter the next century. But all of those factor in to reduced crime. There are cities in America where the police tactics are the same, the police forces has gone down in number, and yet crime is still down. So there’s lots of reasons, in my judgment, as to why crime has gone down. Has crime gone down here in New York City as a result of good police work? Yes, but there are other things factored in as well.

HEFFNER: And aggressive tactics, to use the phrase that you’ve used, how do you evaluate that?

KELLY: Well, you have to be careful.

HEFFNER: Meaning what?

KELLY: Meaning that you have to make certain that police officers are trained and are sensitive to the rights of the citizens. They have to know the Constitution. I mean, you know, a cop is the Constitution at two o’clock in the morning. It’s a very powerful person out there, and you have to continually reinforce that, sensitize them to that. So there are issues as far as tactics, stop and frisk. Those sorts of things, I think in a civilized society, in a democratic society, have to constantly be reinforced with police officers.

HEFFNER: Do you think they are being reinforced?

KELLY: I think there is an awareness in the department. I think there is training, in-service training. They have a fairly comprehensive program of training police officers on a regular basis, which many departments don’t have. And we have to do a better job of it in the Customs Service, quite frankly. So the department has been aware of issues as far as searching people and stopping people for many years and there is a fair amount of training and I’m sure it’s still going on. You’ve got a much bigger police force now than you had under the Dinkins administration. Seven thousand more police were at least authorized to be hired. The benefit of those hired really came about with the present administration. Those people came on board. So it’s a bigger department, probably more challenging to train, but a pretty sophisticated department here with sophisticated people. I believe, I would hope, that the sensitivity to these issues is still being trained in the Police Academy and in in-service training curriculum.

HEFFNER: Do you think it’s possible with as large a department to achieve the training level that you feel is necessary?

KELLY: It’s difficult. It’s a challenge because it is so big. There’s a Police Academy on 20th Street that has long since outgrown its usefulness but it’s still there. We need a new Police Academy, there’s no question about that. And that was going to happen a few years ago and then somehow it fell through the cracks. But it is difficult to train such a large number of people. I see it myself as one of the issues that we have in the Customs Service. We’re being so decentralized. How do you get uniform training? How do you record who has been trained, who hasn’t been trained? How do you identify who needs training? We’re bringing on in the Customs Service an Assistant Commissioner just for training, to do precisely that. But yeah, it’s always a concern of the Police Commissioner as to how much training is being done, the quality of the training, and again the opportunity costs of the training. When you train somebody, you’re taking him out of service for a period of time.

HEFFNER: I remember when you were here on the OPEN MIND and I had just participated in one of those ride-along projects at the Police Foundation, and I was just shocked out of my boots at what these young men put up with. And I couldn’t understand it; I don’t understand to this day how they survive the kind of strain that is placed upon a cop.

KELLY: It can be a stressful job, there’s no question about it, but it can also be a very rewarding job. It’s one of the few jobs where you can really do good and see the good that you’ve done. So I think it’s just about the greatest way to make a living. And if you like it, it’s like being retired at full pay as they say, you know, and I always liked it. But yes, it does have its moments. It does have a lot of stress.

HEFFNER: I want to ask you one final question. We just have a couple of minutes left. As you look around the country today, are there areas that have the same kinds of programs, heavily concentrated populations, large minority groups, that are handling the problems better and if so, can we identify the reasons?

KELLY: I think it’s difficult to say. And now, quite frankly, I’m not that focused on police/community relations issues these days. I have some other issues on my plate. So, I don’t want to say. I mean, I think the country is in very good shape in a lot of areas and, you know, crime has been down significantly now for several years. There is this concern about dealing with the community and I think there are some pretty enlightened police leaders out there who know this and who work at engaging with the community. We have John Timoney, who was a New York City police chief, actually Chief of the Department, who is now the Commissioner in Philadelphia. I think John is very attuned to these types of issues. There are other chiefs that are out there. So I can’t say specifically that city X is doing, you know, a better job than city Y. But there I think current police thinking is that, OK, crime is down but if we have backed off from working with the community, we’ve got to get back to doing that.

HEFFNER: In the one minute we have left; demographically, what do you anticipate will happen in terms of crime problems in the 21st century?

KELLY: Well, we’re told that the cohorts of young people that we’ve been historically concerned about are going to increase, the fourteen to nineteen year-olds, percentage-wise in the population in the early part of the next century. And historically that’s created problems for the police. I think some encouraging news is that the general use of drugs is down, and the numbers of people. All the indicators seem to be down. From a high of the early 1980s to where we are today, it’s been a significant drop. That’s encouraging, but the growing youth population I think is going to be of concern for police enforcement agencies throughout the country.

HEFFNER: Commissioner Kelly, on that note, we bring the program to a close for this century. Thank you very much for joining me today.

KELLY: Thanks, Dick.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P.O. Box 7977, F.D.R. Station, New York, NY 10150.

Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck”.