With the clock ticking down on the Bloomberg administration, and his police commissioner possibly eyeing green pastures (or facing dismissal) Ray Kelly is trying to set the record straight on his record running New York City's police force. In an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal, Kelly staunchly defends the controversial policies of stop-and-frisk and surveillance of Muslim groups, by breaking out his big number. He claims there were 7,383 fewer murders during the 11 years of Michael Bloomberg's term as mayor — which also happens to coincide with Kelly's most recent 11 years as NYPD commissioner — than there were in the previous 11 years, a decline of well over 50 percent from what had been historic highs.
Kelly credits one of his most heavily criticized policies, stop-and-frisk, for contributing to the decline in violent crime. But he angrily dismisses critics who say that it unfairly targets minorities, by pointing out that most victims of violent crime are minorities, and that most of those lives saved were "young men of color."
Racial profiling is a disingenuous charge at best and an incendiary one at worst, particularly in the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. The effect is to obscure the rock-solid legal and constitutional foundation underpinning the police department's tactics and the painstaking analysis that determines how we employ them.
Some of the candidates running for mayor, including one-time favorite Christine Quinn, have suggested that changes must be made to the stop-and-frisk program or Kelly could be dismissed from his job. She might not get the chance, however, since there have been rumblings that Kelly could be in line for the top job at the Department of Homeland Security, or might even be considering a run for office himself, once Bloomberg's term is over.
Kelly also defends the other most hated (and legally questionable) policy of his tenure, the heavy surveillance of Muslims inside and outside of New York, often using undercover agents and informants in the hopes of rooting out terror plots. He says that anyone who thinks the NYPD has broken the law has "either not read, misunderstood or intentionally obfuscated the meaning of the Handschu Guidelines," a 1980's law designed to protect those engaged in political speech. But he also admits in the piece that the NYPD changed those guidelines in 2002, as a specific response to the September 11 terrorists attacks.
Kelly isn't running for office yet and he may have enough critics to top his appointment to DHS, but the op-ed reads like someone who knows he won't be around much longer and isn't going to walk away without getting in the last word. No one disputes that Kelly and Bloomberg's NYPD has done a remarkable job at reducing crime, but that doesn't mean the debate about some of their tactics is settled. In fact, Alex Pareene at Salon has written a pretty detailed rebuttal to Kelly's piece.