New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's Exit Interview: No Regrets

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 31 2013 11:00 AM

New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly's Exit Interview: No Regrets

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Less stopping, less frisking.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The New York Times has nabbed a wide-ranging exit interview with controversial New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that's sure to rankle his critics—and fire up his supporters. Kelly, the driving force behind the New York Police Department's possibly unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program, makes no apologies in the last days of his tenure. Instead, he continues employing the arguments that failed in Judge Scheindlin's courtroom:

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

Mention racial profiling and Mr. Kelly’s eyes narrow. No issue cast a longer shadow over his tenure. ... In the eyes of critics, he has become a racial profiling bogeyman. In August, a federal judge ruled that officers’ intensive use of stop-and-frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of young blacks and Latinos.
The judge imposed a federal monitor. This infuriated Mr. Kelly, who suggests his problem lies with the incomprehension of critics. “I think we could have done a better job explaining it,” he says. He leans forward and offers an exercise in mathematics: 12 million civilian calls, 500,000 summonses, 400,000 arrests per year. At the peak, 685,000 stops a year came to less than one stop per officer per week. Early in his tenure he ordered officers to carefully record stops. This, he suggests, created an illusion of greatly increased stops.
“In a way, accurate record keeping was used to attack us,” he said.
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Kelly also obliquely defends his contentious post-9/11 surveillence policies, which heavily targetted Muslim communities—perhaps illegally. And of course, he notes his undeniable success in driving down homicide rates, a feat that seemed unimaginable several decades ago.

The question is put to Mr. Kelly: Did he ever imagine homicides might fall below 340 in a city of eight million? (By way of bloody comparison, Newark has a population of 277,000 and will end this year with more than 100 homicides).
Mr. Kelly shakes his head. The writer Jack Newfield “said that if the murders go below 600, you should have a ticker-tape parade for the Police Department,” Mr. Kelly says. “We’re at less than half that right now.

Whether Kelly's potentially discriminatory tactics are necessary to keep this rate at its current level or lower will soon be apparent: Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has sworn to reign in stop-and-frisk when he takes office on New Year's Day. But no matter the result of de Blasio's reforms, it's clear that Kelly, in his final hours in office, looks back on his years as Commissioner with nothing but pride.

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