Commentary Magazine


Why Ray Kelly Should Stay in New York

Ever since the announcement that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was leaving her post, the list of possible replacements has included New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. But Kelly’s consideration received a boost yesterday when President Obama, in an interview with Univision, said he’d consider Kelly, and added that the commish is “very well-qualified for the job.”

The president is of course correct about Kelly’s qualifications. Kelly also enjoys sky-high approval ratings in New York, across ethnic and political lines, despite the campaign against him from the mainstream media, which is reflexively anti-police and whose reporting on the NYPD has rarely even resembled reality. (The local media is far more supportive of the NYPD; despite its name, the New York Times is a national, not local, paper and its egregious reporting on the NYPD is a good example of the divide.)

So, Kelly is qualified and enjoys bipartisan support. He would thus seem to be a sensible choice. And if he’s offered the post, he should under no circumstances accept it.

Kelly may not even be interested in heading to Washington. But if he is, there are important reasons why he should resist the temptation. The primary reason is one that may seem counterintuitive: Kelly could more effectively promote American national security from New York City than Washington. This isn’t to disparage the Department of Homeland Security, but it’s merely a bureaucratic management position. The separate agencies, where the real action is, already have their leaders: Kelly wouldn’t lead the FBI or CIA, for example, and we even have a director of national intelligence whose job it is to serve as an executive filter of such information.

Additionally, the DHS secretary answers to the White House. Kelly would not necessarily have the freedom to pursue his policy preferences, and he would have to wade into myriad turf wars to change anything about the way Washington approaches homeland security.

In New York City, by contrast, Kelly has tremendous independence. New York is also not only on the front lines of domestic antiterrorism, but a trendsetter nationally in urban policing. When the NYPD figured out how to reduce crime in urban settings, the policies were exported to other major cities that couldn’t tame their violent crime rates and get their cities under control. Sometimes, the NYPD’s own practitioners of the policies were hired by those cities: William Bratton, New York’s police commissioner during the Giuliani administration, was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 2002, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently brought in Garry McCarthy, a disciple of Bratton’s at the NYPD and the man in charge of the NYPD’s successful CompStat system.

New York’s safety thus has implications for the safety of America’s major cities, and with the recent migration trends indicating a return to the cities, urban policymaking becomes even more important–as does having a popular, credible, and tough-minded leader of that policymaking effort. And that is the other reason Kelly should be wary of an offer to head DHS: the motives of his supposed Democratic admirers.

The American left, steeped in a suspicion of the police and ignorant of crime policy, believes that the NYPD’s successful anti-crime efforts can be reduced to racial profiling, especially with regard to the policy known as stop and frisk. The reality, of course, is that the police are going where the crime is and responding to calls for help from the residents of those communities. The irony in the liberal critique is that the NYPD is correcting the disparate impact of the liberal approach to crime, which creates a racially incongruent system of city inequality.

But liberals are challenging the NYPD in court and have found an irresponsible, activist judge who is trying, despite the evidence, to find some way to tie the hands of the NYPD. Additionally, it is also a mayoral election year, and so the Democratic candidates can be found playing their typical game of one-upmanship: Christine Quinn backed a dangerous plan to crack down on the NYPD’s successful anti-crime strategies. But Anthony Weiner is also running for mayor, which means he had to try desperately to find the dumbest thing he could possibly say about the NYPD. He has a unique talent for aggressive stupidity, and has now compared the NYPD’s logic to that of the Nazis.

All that means this is a crucial time for Ray Kelly to be heading the NYPD. Democrats want this controversy to go away, and many of them would also like to undercut the NYPD’s anti-crime efforts. Politically, they have much to gain from plucking Kelly from his current job and putting him behind a desk in Washington. It’s never easy to say no to the president, but in this case the job offer, if it materializes, would have the intent of undoing much of Kelly’s great work. Hopefully, the commissioner sees through the Democrats’ ploy.

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