Is Ray Kelly’s NYPD Spinning Out of Control?

Between racist cops, rape cops, ticket-fixers, gun-runners and 'white shirts' gone wild, New York's Finest are losing their shine. Is the commissioner to blame?

Illustration: Jason Seiler

The commissioner of America’s largest police force was not on hand last week to see a horde of his own officers stand outside a Bronx courthouse and call him a hypocrite.

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He showed up a few hours after they’d dispersed, appearing in a press room inside the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. There, for the second time in a week, he stood in front of a podium andtold reporters in his customarily halting monotone voice that members of the NYPD had once again broken the law.

“These misdeeds tarnish the good name and reputation of the vast majority of police officers who perform their duties honesty and often at risk of their own personal safety,” Raymond W. Kelly said, reading from a prepared statement.

The transgression du jour was ticket-fixing—16 officers were being indicted following a three-year investigation—and though the high-profile case made for the department’s biggest headache since the Mollen Commission, it was arguably a sign of evolution: after decades during which such “favors” were par for the course, the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau had made it clear that such corruption would no longer be tolerated.

If only parking tickets were the worst of it.


In recent weeks, other embarrassing scandals have emerged at a steady clip. After years in which the department seemed to be riding high in the public’s esteem, the sensational trial of the so-called “rape cops,” despite ending in a controversial acquittal, placed the boys in blue in a harsh light. Then came a parade of revelations and misdeeds, including gun-running, evidence-planting and of course pepper-spraying.

“I got to tell you, I’ve got almost 30 years in this department, and morale is really at an all-time low,” Sergeant Ed Mullins, a 29-year NYPD veteran and the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association told The Observer.

A 21-year-veteran of the NYPD, who asked not to be named, agreed. “Morale is not good,” he said. “It sucks. Years ago, people thought the cops did nothing wrong. Now it’s back to ‘Cops are the bad guys.’ We’re working stiffs, we have families to support. People seem to forget that we work as hard as everybody else.”

“Morale is in the eye of the beholder,” Paul Browne, Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, wrote in an email to The Observer. “For the very few who engaged in misconduct, my guess is it’s not great.”

Thank goodness for the “Hipster Cop,” the nattily-dressed community affairs detective whose love of all things Ralph Lauren and Converse made him an instant internet curio and perhaps the most likable peace officer in the Zuccotti-era NYPD. Like Mr. Kelly, who has a self-professed weakness for Charvet ties, he has style on his side.

But the fop cop and the top cop may not be enough to counter the actions of their colleagues, like the one caught bragging to a friend that he had “fried another nigger” after conducting a stop-and-frisk, a controversial tactic that has exploded under Mr. Kelly’s tenure.

To be sure, Mr. Kelly is still celebrated throughout the world as the man who safeguarded New York City from a terrorist onslaught, a no-nonsense crime-fighter beloved for his tough demeanor and Popeye-esque grin. In the decade that followed the September 11th attacks, he built the NYPD into a paramilitary force, capable of shooting down a plane and protecting its own borders without the Federal government’s assistance.

“The last 10 years since 9/11 is the only decade since the 1960s where there hasn’t been a terrorist attack of some sort in [New York],” Mr. Brown noted.

He added that Mr. Kelly’s second tenure as police commissioner—he held the job under Mayor David Dinkins from 1992 to 1994—resulted in an impressively low crime rate “that had no where to go but up.”

With the city the safest it had been in decades, Mr. Kelly found himself sitting for a glowing 60 Minutes profile and fielding invitations to Vanity Fair soirees.

Then came the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Is Ray Kelly’s NYPD Spinning Out of Control?