Correspondent, National Public Radio
Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Police Commissioner, City of New York
Ray Kelly discusses his life fighting crime as New York's former police commissioner.
The CFR Fellows’ Book Launch series highlights new books by CFR fellows. It includes a discussion with the author, cocktail reception, and book signing.
TEMPLE-RASTON: If you could take your seats, we will get ready to get started.
So welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations D.C. Fellows' Book Launch Series. We're here to talk to Commissioner Kelly about his new memoir, “Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City.” There's a big poster in the back, I have this one for you, too.
And welcome to this event. We are going to talk a little bit about local policing. We're going to talk about terrorism.
My name is Dina Temple-Raston and I'm the counterterrorism correspondent for National Public Radio. And I'm based in New York, so I've been covering Commissioner Kelly for some time.
And his book is actually quite interesting because it starts at the beginning and takes you all the way through what's happened. It doesn't just look at the past, but it looks at the future. And it's perfectly timed for what it is we're dealing with now in terms of ISIS and terrorism and also with just community policing and some of the events that have happened in police, you know, street crime and policing in recent months. And some of these things are actually addressed in the book, and we'll address them tonight as well.
So please join me in welcoming Commissioner Ray Kelly. (Applause.)
Now, I have to admit I'm a bit of a terrorism geek, so for me the terrorism stuff in the book was particularly interesting, particularly because I lived it as someone who is there in New York City.
And among the things you do in the book is you outline 16 specific terrorist plots that were foiled during your 12 years as police commissioner. And I knew the details of every one of them, but I'm very interested to know, for you, which one was the closest call?
KELLY: Well, just let me start off by thanking Richard Haass, thanking the Council, thank you, Dexter, for having me here today. We had a similar event at the Council last week in Manhattan. And I am a distinguished visiting fellow, and it's really quite an honor to be associated with this organization.
So which terrorist event of the 16 came closest? Well, one actually took place in a very diluted form, and that is Faisal Shahzad. On May 1st of 2010, he drives right into Times Square, finds a parking spot and he's going to blow up the car that he is in, with propane tanks.
Now, let me go back to how this started. Faisal Shahzad is a naturalized U.S. citizen, Pakistani origin, goes to Pakistan, like so many of the people who become radicalized. His major motivator was Abu Ghraib and, you know, atrocities, alleged atrocities.
TEMPLE-RASTON: (Inaudible)—as well, right?
KELLY: Yeah. He goes there, he hooks up with the Pakistani Taliban. They give him a formula as to how to put together a bomb. He comes back, and the formula consists of fertilizer, M80 firecrackers, and propane tanks. He starts to accumulate this material, and he feels that people are going to identify him or they're going to suspect him because he looks like he's Pakistani. So he goes to Pennsylvania to buy firecrackers, but he buys M88 firecrackers, he dumbs it down. The same thing with the fertilizer, he buys one of less toxicity, if you will. He purchases a vehicle in Connecticut.
He drives in, it's right next to the Marriott Hotel, and he sets it off. He explodes or tries to explode it, but just smoke comes out from the fuse that he had. There were vendors there, they saw him, they call the police. There was a police officer on horseback. He goes over there. They didn't arrest him, he got away. Ultimately, he's arrested two days later on a flight to Abu Dhabi that hadn't left the airport, the Kennedy Airport, so we were very close to him getting away.
By the way, he had an M-9 rifle in his car. He was going to shoot it out. Of course, he left the car in the parking lot.
We didn't know anything about Faisal Shahzad. He was a total zero as far as being on the radar screen. So that was the closest.
Najibullah Zazi has gotten a lot of press. That was 2009, the year before, where he and two companions were going to blow themselves up on the subway when President Obama was in town, September 14th of 2009. But through an NSA intercept, his preparation of the bomb was identified from Colorado. You know, I don't want to—
TEMPLE-RASTON: He did actually build a bomb, right? Isn't that the big difference—
KELLY: I'm sorry?
TEMPLE-RASTON: —that Zazi could actually build a bomb whereas, clearly, Faisal Shahzad wasn't a great bomb maker.
KELLY: No, but he did it intentionally. By the way, he confesses all this. This is all, you know, he's proud of what he did, Faisal Shahzad, and he tells the whole story, and he tells about how he tried to, you know, reduce his profile, if you will.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And the thing I remember about the Faisal Shahzad story was that—so I don't know if it was NYPD or FBI actually go on the plane and pull him off the plane. And does he actually—is this a hypocryphal story or not? Does he actually say, I think you're looking for me? Or is that a hypocryphal story?
KELLY: Yeah. No, I think—I think U.S. Customs—I was the commissioner of years ago, I want to get everybody into the act—I think they were involved in that as well. But he did somehow identify himself, yeah.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So those of us who track terrorism I think, and even just regular citizens who see plot after plot come out in the news, I think to most of us we're kind of surprised that nothing has happened since 9/11, even though we have these close calls that you've talked about. Is that because our counterterrorism measures are that good? Or is it because these guys who try to do it are a bit feckless?
KELLY: I think it's a big unknown. Sure, we're going to claim credit for it, you know. But take New York, for instance, 10 million people during the workday, an open city. Obviously, we know all of the tweets, that type of communication going on from ISIS and others, 90,000 a day we're told. So very difficult to get your arms around it. We know radicalization.
Another case that's mentioned in the book, Jose Pimentel, radicalized basically on his own computer screen. That's what gets him to do the things that he was going to do, which he was going to blow up soldiers returning from Afghanistan.
So you know, we've been lucky. I think we've been good. And we're going to have to be that way for, in my view, a long time to come.
Why hasn't there been more attacks? We saw the attack against the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. It was done by four people, and maybe as many as a hundred people were killed. And there was a lot of certainly ineptitude on the part of the police and the military that responded there. But it's so simple to do, the individual on the train in France.
I don't have a good answer for you, but yeah, I think the federal government's doing a good job. I think state and local police are certainly involved. But it's so simple to do some of these things that you have to ask the question, why not?
TEMPLE-RASTON: In the past when you compare, say, al-Qaida with ISIS, in the past people who were radicalized for al-Qaida would travel. As you said, Faisal Shahzad went to Pakistan, even though that was TTP, but as a general matter Zazi traveled as well. And these ISIS people don't necessarily need to travel, which makes it much harder to find them.
Can you compare the ISIS threat as we see it now and the al-Qaida threat that you've been fighting for 12 years?
KELLY: Yeah. Well, as we said before, I think it's a distinction without a difference. As far as we're concerned, they want to kill us, they want to come here and kill Americans or overseas. So you know, I don't know about how much we need to parse it, but I think you do have a point. ISIS and the people joining ISIS are joining an army. That, you know, it's a de facto standing army. Al-Qaida is much more circumspect, much more clandestine in their operations and in their approach to doing business.
ISIS, if you—you know, Dabiq is a city in Syria that in the Haditha which, you know, is Mohammed musings, a huge battle is supposed to take there basically between good and evil, good being the Muslims, and others.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And evil being—
TEMPLE-RASTON: —the Christians.
KELLY: So they want to have that battle. And their website, their magazine is called Dabiq. So their whole approach is, hey, here I am, here we are, come on, let's, you know, let's engage, that sort of thing. Obviously, that's not al-Qaida's approach. But for us, you know, we're threatened by both groups.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Right. So one of the things that you've talked a little bit about and certainly has been in the news is this idea of accepting refugees from Syria and those areas, here in the United States. And one of the reasons why people say they don't want them to come here is because there is a concern that jihadis will hid themselves within this population. Is that something you worry about from a terrorism perspective?
KELLY: Not particularly. I think, you know, a more immediate worry is people who are being radicalized on the, you know, on the Internet and are just sitting in their basement here in this country.
I think accepting refugees is something that we do. We're all refugees or, you know, descendants of refugees, and in a way I think that's what America is all about. Do I think they should be vetted? Yes. Is it challenging? Yes.
But I can tell you, even in the New York City Police Department if you want to vet somebody who's born outside the country, to hire, and now there are police officers born in 106 countries in the NYPD, no other police department in the world comes close to that, but if you want to vet somebody who was born in Pakistan, very difficult to do. So it's simply not easy. I think we should do it.
I was happy to see that the president or secretary of state indicated that we're going to go up to 100,000 refugees in two years' time.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So let's talk a little bit about street crime. You and Bill Bratton, the current commissioner of the NYPD, have sparred a bit over the idea of stop-question-and-frisk. There was just an article in the past couple of weeks in The New Yorker about Commissioner Bratton and how he felt about that practice.
Do you think that stop-question-and-frisk was overused in New York? And if you had to do it again, would you have—would you use it more judiciously?
KELLY: I would use it the way we used it. I think Bill Bratton is a topflight professional. Interestingly, when he as Los Angeles chief it was used more per police officer there than it was in New York, so he has apparently changed his thinking, although he hasn't said that.
And you have to also norm for population. And the population of Los Angeles is about 40 percent of what New York City is. And some indications for car stops and pedestrian stops were like 800,000. If you norm, that put it up to like 2 million. And we know that people live in their cars in Los Angeles. So these numbers get very, very, you know, murky.
Now, what is it? It is a practice that stems from the common law. It's what you pay your constable, your police officers to do to intervene when there's suspicious activity. This practice was validated by the Supreme Court decision Terry versus Ohio. It's codified. It's on the books in every state in the union.
Now, do I think it's a panacea, the be-all, end-all? No, I don't. But it is an integral tool that police officers need to have.
Now, just for—I hate to keep going through numbers here, but New York City has a population of 8.4 million people, as I said before go up to 10 million a day. We have 35,000 uniformed police officers. Let's say 19,000 of them are in position to stop and question someone, and less than half the people stopped are patted down—19,000. They worked about 190 patrol tours a year, that's about 3.6 million. If you multiply by seven hours, 25 million patrol hours a year.
They, this administration, says that 40,000 stops in that situation in New York City is the appropriate number, 40,000 out of those hours. And also, several hundred thousand calls go to the 911 system every year about suspicious activity.
KELLY: So it is not being utilized the way I think it should be utilized. Is it number driven? No, it's event driven. But certainly there are a lot more events that are happening in New York City than that would indicate.
In the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration, there were 9,500 fewer murders than the 12 years before Michael Bloomberg. Those lives that are saved, in my judgment, if this is any guide, otherwise, you know, men of color because that's who's getting killed on the streets of this city and New York City and other major cities.
So it is an important tool. It was not over-utilized. I can tell you when I was police officer we didn't record it. In many cities, it's just simply not recorded. The stop rate in New York was significantly lower than what it was in Baltimore, in Philadelphia, in Chicago and in L.A. in the example that I told you. So no, we, to a certain extent, are being punished just for better record keeping.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So you talk about this a little bit in the book, and I don't want to belabor the point, but can you talk a little bit about the court ruling? I mean, there was a 2nd—am I right, is it 2nd Circuit Court ruling that actually found stop-and-frisk—
KELLY: Yeah. Well, you have to go back. This litigation started in 1999. It's the plaintiffs, for all intents and purposes, are the Center for Constitutional Rights. And you know, the actual plaintiffs themselves are fungible, but they're the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
So it goes in front of Judge Scheindlin in 1999. There is an agreement, the case has a—the city agrees to do certain things. The case is ended. The Center for Constitutional Rights starts another litigation the next day. It also goes in front of Judge Scheindlin, which was, in my judgment and the judgment of a lot of other people, including the 2nd Circuit, inappropriate. It should be done under sort of a random wheel.
Anyway, there was a trial. It was strangely coinciding with the mayoral election. And the case—
TEMPLE-RASTON: This the most recent mayoral election.
KELLY: —mayoral election in 2013. The judge finds that something called indirect racial profiling is taking place. That term has never been used before.
In the trial, there was an expert for the plaintiffs. He looks at 4 million stops over a decade. He says that 6 percent of those 4 million stops don't meet constitutional muster—6 percent, 94 percent do. In the trial itself in terms of the plaintiffs, there are 19 stops in question. The judge finds that 10 of the 19 stops are constitutionally acceptable. Even so, the finding is that of this indirect racial profiling.
I just mentioned to you how diverse the department is. So somehow a policy that was fostered by, you know, the executive corps was forced on the most diverse police department in the world to conduct something called indirect racial profiling.
So what happens is Mayor Bloomberg appeals the case. It goes to the 2nd Circuit. Before the case is appealed, they remove the judge from the case, this is after her decision, she's removed from any further activity with that case because of pretrial partiality. This is the same body that's going to hear the appeal.
KELLY: Mayor de Blasio takes office, he decides not to go forward with the appeal—
TEMPLE-RASTON: So he withdraws the appeal.
KELLY: —and to have a monitor put in place.
TEMPLE-RASTON: So this is —
KELLY: That's where we are now.
TEMPLE-RASTON: This is one of the reasons why it's controversial because it's seen as having been ruled against it.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Let me—because we don't—I want to get to questions. I want to ask you a little bit about the Eric Garner case. And just for people, I'm pretty sure you know which one it is, but this is the one that happened in New York. In Staten Island, is that right?
TEMPLE-RASTON: In which a police officer actually used choke hold, he said he couldn't breathe, and he ended up dying.
If you had been there in New York at that time as commissioner, how would you have handled it differently? And what do you think should happen going forward?
KELLY: Well, first of all, the case is still going on. There's been no action taken against the officer involved here. So in the NYPD, all disciplinary activity above a certain level goes to the police commissioner, and that's where the final determination is made. So I am not going to say what, you know, what the decision should be.
What I said and say in the book is that I would have appreciated the grand jury minutes being made public, because I wonder, I don't know, if what we call a frame—now we've changed it a little bit with the technology that's out there—but did the jury look at every frame? I don't know that.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Every frame of the video.
KELLY: What's the contact? Every frame because that video was stopped.
KELLY: If you look at the publicly available video, you can see there are breaks in it. So I would have liked to have known that, to look at the grand jury minutes and see what the district attorney said during that.
I'm the person who put in the regulation about choke holds. I did it the first time I was commissioner.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Against someone.
KELLY: Against someone. But I don't know the circumstance, I don't know how long. You know, these types of questions, how long was he, you know, Eric Garner held? Those things you would have to point out I think from a really in-depth analysis of that tape.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Right. So as you know, there are issues right now between police and local communities. One was made—just happened in New York recently in which the U.S. tennis star Blake, James Blake, was tackled by police.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Should that officer have been arrested?
KELLY: No, no, not at all. He's performing what he considers to be, you know, certainly a lawful exercise of his power. Now, what I've said is if you just look at that video itself and if you know what the alleged crime was—
TEMPLE-RASTON: This is security video from the hotel.
KELLY: And if you know what the alleged crime was—I'm sorry?
TEMPLE-RASTON: This is security video from the hotel.
KELLY: So the crime is credit card fraud. The video shows one officer grabbing him and pushing him down. That is the type of arrest where you go up and introduce yourself to the individual and the other police officer on the team. That was information coming out that they were doing something else and they're not even afraid of this individual running.
But if you just look at the four corners, his arrest approach was inappropriate, not what you do. Is there extenuating circumstances? I don't know. We're going to hear.
Now, there is a whole disciplinary proceeding and process in the police department where you have a courtroom where you have judges who are lawyers, where you have advocates who are lawyers, who are, you know, presenting this case, the defense attorneys. All of that has to go forward. It has not happened and I don't know if it is going to happen to that officer in Staten Island.
KELLY: But police officers are entitled to due process and that's what the officer involved in the Blake case should receive.
TEMPLE-RASTON: OK. So at this time, I'd like to invite people from the audience to ask Commissioner Kelly some questions.
I need to remind you that this is in fact on the record. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. And stand, state your name, and please actually ask a question.
This gentleman in the second row, please.
Q: Thank you. Commissioner, one of the things that's unique about NYPD is its capabilities internationally. It has a very robust capability in terms of relationships with other law enforcement agencies, and its own intelligence apparatus. And there's some unique reasons for that.
But I'd be interested if you could describe why that works for NYPD, how that might apply to other law enforcement agencies and how that interrelates with national apparatus for those purposes.
KELLY: Well, an important reason for establishing those overseas posts was that David Cohen became our deputy commissioner of intelligence. Some members of David's family are here tonight. He was absolutely terrific.
Now, I was the Customs commissioner, I mentioned, so David and I—and Customs had legats, legal attaches, you know, overseas when I was there. So David and I had this conversation, hey, why don't we do that? And why? What is the rationale behind it?
Well, we looked at some cases early on and some of the threats had to do with multiple cities. And the question was, if something surfaced in some other city in Europe or whatever, would they tell us? They're concerned about their own safety. And is there any way of us getting information, bits of information that will help us better protect New York? And we said yes.
Now, I didn't want to fund it through the regular tax levy budget, because somebody gets their car broken into in, you know, in Queens and says, hey, you've got a cop in Abu Dhabi and my car's window is broken into. So we used the police foundation or asked the police foundation, I should say, to fund it. And it cost just a little over a million dollars a year. Now, you know what that means in this city when you're talking, that's really pocket change.
So we decided to go to locations, and David had terrific contacts that helped in this regard, that were hospitable to having a police offer there, and that would provide potentially some information to better protect New York.
Now, what's unique about it is that they're embedded with local police. They're not working with the ambassador, the U.S. ambassador. It's not like the legats that the FBI and U.S. Customs have. They are actually cop-to-cop which is a sort of unique bonding.
So where are they now? They're in—and it also highlights the diversity of the department. We had a lieutenant and his wife, he's born in Egypt, he is a lieutenant, as I say, she was born in Egypt, a police officer, assigned to Abu Dhabi. Obviously they speak, you know, Arabic. They happen to be Coptic Christians. Similarly structured with people who are appropriate for where they went.
We have now, the department has, officers in Leone, France which is where INTERPOL is located, Amman, Jordan, Tel Aviv, and we have, for instance, the detective who's there in Tel Aviv was a member of the Israeli defense force, in Madrid, Spain we have an officer there who was born in Madrid, in Paris, and we've rotated people in and out, you know, people who at one time were, you know, born in Paris, in the U.K., in Montreal, in Toronto, in Singapore, and Dominican Republic.
They're there, they have their ear to the ground. They act as a tripwire listening post to help better protect New York.
Secondarily, they're also in a position to go to terrorist events and find information out as quickly as possible. Example, Mumbai, 2008, we had three of our liaisons go there and got there just after the shooting stopped. We wanted to get as much information as we could, as quickly as we could. Why? Mumbai, obviously a financial capital in that area of the world. It started out as a hostage-taking situation. So something like that could happen in New York.
In less than one week's time, we had 400 people in our auditorium, security directors, with those three officers on a live hookup from Mumbai. They produced a 75-page report that we gave to the FBI that morning. I had a tabletop exercise with our commanders roughly replicating what happened. And we had an actual exercise at Floyd Bennett Field that we were watching on television. This is all in less than a week.
We put those people overseas, I did, to a large extent, to get real-time or rapid information. And that's what we got here.
A couple of things we learned or did as a result of that. We're concerned about our protracted terrorist hostage-taking situation, and about 400 people in NYPD who are qualified with heavy weapons emergency service unit. We augmented them with 250 people from our Organized Crime Control Bureau who trained with heavy weapons and were the backups. They did their regular jobs, but they were to act as backups.
We also filmed the interior of the major hotels in Manhattan and used it to teach police officers. They're not in those hotels every day. Where is the power room? Where is the TV monitor? You want to go and see what, you know, what you can watch as far as what's going on in the location.
So we learned a lot. I think it is well worth the money, and this comes from the private sector. But the goal was to put something in place to help us better protect New York City, and I think it has.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And it changed your attitude, too, about these kinds of situations, right? Before, you used to think about hostage negotiation, and now it's much more you know that the idea here is not for a negotiation for hostage, but to kill as many people as possible.
KELLY: Yeah, well, I mean you still have to have—
TEMPLE-RASTON: Can you talk a little bit about that?
KELLY: —that capacity out there to negotiate. In the department there's a caption that I worked for many years ago, Frank Bolz, who really initiated a lot of that. He put it in place after Munich in 1972, whenever it was, he put that in place. And the department prides itself on the hostage-negotiation regimen that it has in place.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And during the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I know you had a New York police officer who was there in Paris. And I know he was incredibly helpful to the French, who didn't know exactly what was unfolding, because it unfolded after so many days. And I know that he was very key in what they were doing there.
KELLY: Yeah. Well, it's a big organization. You have 54,000 employees, so they could be anywhere.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, sir, in the third row, the gentleman in the blue blazer?
Q: Thanks. Commissioner, could you talk a little bit—
TEMPLE-RASTON: Could you introduce yourself?
Q: On, I'm sorry. Shelby Coffey from the Newseum.
Commissioner, I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about the future effects and the effects we're seeing now in the use of cellphones, smartphones to film encounters between the public and the police and their use on 24-hour news?
There's talk, as I'm sure you've heard, about is there a war on police, is there a police war on parts of the public? And one of the factors that people talk about is the effect of these videos and the use of social media in broadcasting these incidents. Are we in for a new era? And how do you see that unfolding?
KELLY: So you're saying the cellphone cameras?
Q: Yes, cellphone cameras.
KELLY: In other words, the effect of people are recording police officer interaction.
KELLY: Yeah, I think it's a game changer. And that's why I support, one of the reasons why I support police officers wearing cameras. I wasn't always totally supportive of it because I thought, and I still think, that police officers wearing cameras will cause them to hesitate. In some people's minds, that's a good thing; in some people's minds, that's a bad thing. But I think we're going to see hesitation.
But if you look at the video, the horrendous incident in North Charleston, South Carolina where Walter Scott is shot in the back and it appears that the officer is planting evidence on him, no rational officer wearing a camera would have acted like that, in my judgment.
TEMPLE-RASTON: This is the man who was running across the field. That's the one you're talking about?
KELLY: He runs out of his car, it was a traffic violation. He's wearing a green shirt. And the police officer looks around in a rather casual manner, shoots him in the back.
I think these cameras, I think the train has left the station as far as wearing cameras are concerned. They're expensive. Where do you store all of this information? How long do you store it? Who has access to it? These are all very important questions that have to be worked out. But I think the concept is with us to stay.
And I believe that these cameras will show much more positive, heroic, lifesaving work on the part of the police than the inappropriate conduct. I think what you see with a lot of videos that are filmed by the public, they start in the middle of the incident, you don't see why it happened, you don't see what happened initially, and you'll see the police. There's no Marquess of Queensberry rules. Arresting someone is not an easy thing to do, particularly if they don't want to be arrested.
So you know, it's not a pretty sight sometimes. So you see that sort of thing and, you know, people get shocked by it. But I think what the cameras will do is to at least give the potential for a beginning, a middle and an end as far as filming an incident is concerned.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The gentleman in the second row, please?
Q: Hi, Chief. Dan Kaniewski, I'm a homeland security researcher.
KELLY: Hi, Dan.
Q: In my field, 9/11 was a seminal event, and obviously you know better than anybody the effect that 9/11 had.
What I've looked at is homeland security funding, and homeland security funding obviously dramatically increased after 9/11 and it helped build the capabilities of federal, state and local police departments for a counterterrorism mission.
What I worry about today, though, is crime. I see crime rates increasing in major metropolitan areas, including New York City, and there's no galvanizing event for our citizens of these cities to say crime is out of control, we need to empower the police department, either through tactics or provide additional resources, to prevent crime from spiraling out of control.
So my question is, where or how or when will that 9/11-type event happen in the area of crime prevention to enable police officers around this country to execute their crime-fighting mission instead of their counterterrorism mission?
KELLY: Well, I think we've put it sort of in a historical perspective. Crime is down dramatically for the last two decades in the country. I attribute that, generally speaking, to smarter policing, to the use of technology. Cops have done a very good job for America, in my judgment.
Now we see the—and crime is still down quite a bit. So I don't have the same concerns that you have at this juncture. But could it happen down the road? Yeah. I think we have to be careful about it.
What you see is the events of Ferguson, you see the events of North Charleston, you see these other events that have happened, you see what happened in New York with the whole “stop, question, and frisk” approach. The signals that have been given to police officers is to back off, to hesitate. And some people call it the Ferguson effect or there's more than Ferguson involved. And I think that's a problem.
It'll take some time, but I think even cameras will play a role in sort of increasing the public's trust in communities of color where it's questionable sometimes as to just how well the police and the communities get along. I think over time that will make a difference.
But right now—The New York Times had an article two weeks ago, front page, where it said murder is up in 30 cities throughout America. Well, that's just not a coincidence, it's up because of I think this sort of collective—we live in a much smaller world these days. The cops are seeing what's going on places and receiving, you know, the signals.
Don't forget, we're talking about civil servants. We're talking about people who are going to get paid, you know, sort of irrespective of what their actions are, as long as they're not against the regulations or they're not illegal. So this is kind of a natural pulling back. And I think that is a reason, a significant reason—maybe not the only reason, but that's why you see the increased levels of crime.
So the issue is, is that going to turn around or level off, what have you? I think it's going to take some time. And I think the adoption of cameras will play a role in that. There's some kind of equilibrium that, you know, will be reached.
But I know it is a concern. It's a concern in a lot of cities. And you know, we'll have to wait and see.
TEMPLE-RASTON: One of the points you make in the book is that you think that police officers should have a college degree now. Why is that?
KELLY: Well, I think the job of police officer and law enforcement has become much more complex, much more demanding, and we want them to be technologically savvy. We require a college degree for virtually every teacher in America and, you know, in most rural areas that teachers have a college degree. Yet we give tremendous power to a police officer, life and death, literally life and death and power, you know, you have to understand Supreme Court decisions, you know, constitutional law. The average police officers are riding in a police car. So to not require the same qualification that we require for a teacher I think is not wise.
And I think it will change the recruitment pool. You know, I'd like to see—there will be ways—let's assume this goes forward. Very few departments require this, NYPD requires 60 college credits. But if that requirement went in, there would be ways of somehow getting a college degree just based on life experience, whatever. You had that in the past. You know, that's probably going to be an outgrowth of this movement.
But I think a genuine, four-year college, you know, matriculating, baccalaureate-getting system would help police do their job because of the complexity of our world.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The gentleman on this side, third row, please, the red top?
Q: Tim Petri.
I don't know if you have—do you have any views on whether the huge increase in incarceration has played a role in the diminish of crime, or if there's an easier or better way of controlling crime than putting people away for as long as we have been?
KELLY: Yeah. I mean, there was this belief and I guess a fact years ago that a lot of people in prison were there because of drug violations, low level, or there was a, you know, an unequal sentencing as far as crack cocaine and that sort of thing. I think to a large extent that issue is being addressed.
I think more and more what you see in prison now are people there for violent crimes. They're not there for drug offenses, for the most part. And as you go forward, as we go forward, that problem is being addressed more and more and more. I mean, I've read the things, the million-dollar block and those types of things. I think it's a real problem. But I'm not certain if the solution is to sort of open the, you know, open the gates of the prison.
As a general proposition, I think focusing on violent crime and separating people from society for violent crime is the way to go, and not for drugs, for the most part. I mean, it's more complicated than that. But I mean, that's the approach that I think is a sound one.
TEMPLE-RASTON: We have one last question there in the back?
And then you can speak with the commissioner yourselves and get his book in the back.
Q: Hi, my name is Mike Rettig with the Brookings Institution.
And I apologize for not having all the facts about this, but I recall hearing on “This American Life” or something about a Richmond policing—
TEMPLE-RASTON: Then it must be true, yes.
Q: —policing program where they targeted, I want to say, 17 individuals who were responsible for something like 90 percent—and these are just notional numbers—of the firearms violations. And that's not a tradition—and they gave them cash and worked with them in a social work type of way. And that's not a traditional law enforcement mechanism, but I was wondering, as you see law enforcement evolving, what role, if any, will that play with traditional law enforcement?
KELLY: OK. It's not you, it's me. I'm a disabled veteran. So I didn't hear the whole or part of the question. But basically, it is the identification of an individual who has done something wrong and paid them money? No?
TEMPLE-RASTON: No. It was actually—I had trouble following it a little bit.
Q: Sorry. So I believe in the city of Richmond—
KELLY: Oh, Richmond, OK.
Q: —they identified something like a very small number of individuals who were responsible for the vast majority of firearms violations.
Q: And instead of arresting them and having them go in and out of prisons and continue to offend, they ended up working with them more in a social work way, giving them cash and trying to get them jobs.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And having them turn in their guns, right?
Q: Of course, as well.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, yes. That's an important point.
KELLY: This is a concept that's been around since the '90s. There's lots of unanswered questions about it. What is the recidivist rate? What happens, you have organizations that sponsor this sort of thing. Here's the general construct. We take pictures of some group doing drugs, we'll say they're selling drugs. OK? And then we call them in and we say, hey, look at these pictures, if you continue to do this we're going to lock you up. And oh, by the way, here's some benefits and things that we'll give you, put you on the straight and narrow.
Now, groups that do this have bragged about it. They're working—I'm talking about 25 years this has been out there. There's been no meaningful study, certainly not by the federal government, as to whether or not this is effective.
And as I say, what is the recidivism rate? You know, groups will claim, you know, success, and somebody will throw money at them, and then other groups will do it. You know, there's CeaseFire and other programs in cities that just are not evaluated. And I think there's lots of unanswered questions in these programs.
Now, I had some money in New York and what I did was, and quite frankly I think it's ongoing now, but we wanted to do a program like this in Brownsville, but I insisted on having an objective evaluation component take a look at it as opposed to having self-serving statements on the part of groups who are in this business.
So to the best of my—
TEMPLE-RASTON: And how did that work out?
KELLY: I'm sorry?
TEMPLE-RASTON: And how did that work out?
KELLY: It hasn't been—I think it's still going, like a three-year study. I don't know. But it's the first time that I can recall, you know, that, hey, here's at least the possibility of having an objective analysis of this, because they claim credit all the time or they'll claim credit for a two-block area, you know, which is not that difficult to do. You put police cars and, you know, surround that area, you know. What is the, you know, what is the spillover effect?
All of those things, I think, or many of the questions would ideally be answered in some sort of evaluation I'm talking about.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Excellent. Well, thank you very much for the terrific conversation.
KELLY: Thank you. (Applause.)
This is an uncorrected transcript.