CITY HALL — In a move out of character with his normally staid demeanor, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly tore into several City Council members who are critics of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy Thursday, accusing them of failing to come up with their own alternatives to quell violence in minority communities.
The unusually heated hearing featured Kelly, who has been under intense scrutiny over the past few months for a range of issues, including the NYPD allegedly spying on Muslims, lobbing accusations that had councilmembers on their heels and pointing fingers.
Many council members have been calling on Kelly to scale back the stop-and-frisk program that allows police to stop, question and pat-down suspicious people on the street. Critics say the program unfairly targets black and Hispanic men, alienates young minorities and strains relationships between communities and police.
"Our communities are feeling under siege," East Harlem City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito told Kelly, pointing to a recent poll that showed widespread disapproval among black and Hispanic voters.
But the normally tight-lipped police commissioner appeared to have had enough of the criticism Thursday, shooting back at naysayers in a series of sharply worded attacks.
"You have criticism, but you don’t have any answers," he told the pols.
"We still have an inordinately high level of violence in those communities and I think we need leadership to speak out."
In one particularly heated exchange, Kelly accused leaders of failing to come up with alternatives other than gun buyback programs, which he equated to "chicken soup" — helpful, but no cure-all.
"What I haven’t heard is any solution to the violence problem in this community," he told Mark-Viverito, visibly annoyed.
The exchange came in a wide-ranging hearing that also focused on the NYPD's extensive counter-terrorism efforts, including allegations of racial profiling and a new device Kelly said could detect handguns from afar.
"People are upset about being stopped. Yet what is the answer? What have you said about how do you stop this violence? What do leaders of these communities of color say? What is their tactic and strategy to get guns off the street?" Kelly asked.
Ninety-six percent of shooting victims and 90 percent of murder victims are people of color, he said.
Mark-Viverito tried to respond, telling Kelly: "There needs to be prevention and deeper community-based tactics and strategies." But he cut her off.
"What is that?" he demanded.
"I’m waiting for leadership here," he said. "I’m looking for leadership in these communities to come forward and say something about how we can stop the violence."
Other council members took offense at the characterization that they were doing nothing to help their constituents.
Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, perhaps the strongest critic of stop and frisk, accused Kelly of “pooh-poohing” gun buyback programs, which he said have taken thousands of guns off the street.
"That’s not just window-dressing," said Upper Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson. "As you know, every gun off the street saves a life."
But Kelly argued that gun buyback programs were actually the result of work by African-American ministers frustrated by the lack of action to stop black-on-black crime.
"What they’re saying is there is no political leadership," he said.
In a scrum with reporters after the hearing, Kelly acknowledged that frustration over the program runs deep, but he argued that the benefits outweigh the risks.
"There is concern over stop and frisk. Certainly I am concerned about that. We know that some elements of the community are upset by that. But it is also a life-saving strategy," he said, citing the significant drop in the murder rate over the past 10 years, among other favorable stats.
“We have an obligation to save lives,” he said.