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by Peter Moskos

April 10, 2012

What’s Eating the NYPD?

New York Magazine has a very good article by Chris Smith on Ray Kelley and the current state of the NYPD:
Whenever Kelly leaves One Police Plaza -- most likely in January 2014, when a newly elected mayor replaces Michael Bloomberg -- he will be rightly celebrated as the greatest police commissioner in the city’s history. Crime, overall, is down 34 percent since Kelly took office. There have been zero successful terrorist attacks on the city since September 11, 2001.
His impact on the department will live long beyond his physical presence in One Police Plaza. The NYPD is now thoroughly marinated in Kelly’s personality and priorities. He’s greatly broadened the department’s racial diversity, and exponentially enlarged its technological capabilities.
An entire generation of cops has grown up schooled in his crime-fighting methods. Nearly half of the department’s 34,800 cops were hired on Kelly’s watch. He handles many promotions personally, so the NYPD’s management thoroughly reflects Kelly’s views.

And right now, the department the commissioner rebuilt has two striking characteristics: its effectiveness and its unhappiness.
Later in the article (it's worth reading the whole thing):
The newspapers were full of NYPD news on February 1. Most of it was topped by large headlines: In East Williamsburg, Officer Kevin Brennan had been shot in the head by a man wanted for questioning in connection to a homicide and miraculously survived. In the University Heights section of the Bronx, four cops were captured on cell-phone video pummeling a 19-year-old suspect. And seven alleged members of a violent gang that had terrorized the Ebbets Field housing project for years were indicted, thanks to the work of the NYPD.

Yet as Eugene O’Donnell flipped through the tabloids that morning, he stopped at a smaller item: “No Shirt, Sherlock—Cops barred from wearing NYPD gear.” Apparently Commissioner Kelly had spotted officers wearing gallows-humor T-shirts that bore an unapproved Police Department logo. Kelly issued an order declaring that all NYPD personnel, on and off duty, were forbidden from wearing unlicensed T-shirts.
O'Donnell -- a cop, prosecutor, and now my friend and colleague at John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- very astutely notices the significance of what outsiders may fail to grasp:
Compared to the other stuff in the papers today, this seems silly, but it’s not silly to cops. None of them would ever trivialize the shooting of a fellow officer. But to the rank and file, the T-shirt thing is much more relevant and annoying, because it’s emblematic of what day-to-day life in the department has become.

The NYPD is an agency of extremes. It can disappoint you beyond belief, and then it can do something incredible, like the hostage team or the anti-terrorism stuff. The T-shirt thing, there’s other approaches besides taking the hammer to everybody and saying they can’t wear anything with the NYPD on it. How about a letter from Kelly that says, ‘Dear colleague, is this the image we want to portray?’ Instead there’s a top-down, blanket order that allows them to catch anyone who slips up. You create a culture that says, ‘If we’re all co-defendants, I’m going to join hands with the knucklehead.’ That’s what you saw at the ticket-fixing case: ‘I don’t fix tickets, but if everybody’s going to be blanketly indicted, then we have to protect ourselves.’ 

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