NEW YORK CITY — Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have to accept the lion's share of the blame for being saddled with expected oversight from a new inspector general and new restrictions from an anti-profiling stop-and-frisk bill.
That’s the opinion of several of the smartest and most knowledgeable former officials in the NYPD.
They believe the way Kelly “arrogantly” reacted to the stop-and-frisk controversy when it boiled to the surface over the past two years literally poured gasoline on the incendiary issue.
“He was absolutely tone deaf on this issue and it has created a f---ing mess for the city, a monumental issue for the future,” said one former top police official who is otherwise a Kelly fan.
“He refused to recognize that this was an issue or that he needed to change the way he was doing things.”
The lack of transparency during the Kelly administration played a pivotal role in keeping the public — and by extension the NYPD — from recognizing years earlier that the number of stop-and-frisks in New York was escalating to troubling levels.
Kelly failed to disclose the stop-and-frisk numbers for six years despite being required by law to do so. When he was finally forced to release them, the numbers were stunning, and caused critics to ask why stop-and-frisks escalated from 100,000 during Bloomberg’s first year in office to 500,000 seven years later.
But members of the City Council — themselves NYPD cheerleaders over the falling crime rates — brushed aside the massive increase. That allowed Kelly and Bloomberg to thumb their collective noses at the naysayers, and push onward until the stop-and-frisks reached nearly 700,000 in 2011.
“Maybe the lack of transparency prolonged things that could have been stopped sooner,” one source said. “But I think it was the arrogance.”
“I think if [Kelly] had just backed down, instead of saying, ‘F--- you, I know better,’ the result could have been different,” the source continued.
The sources recalled a particularly testy City Council session nearly two years ago when Kelly literally challenged them to come up with a better approach.
“His reaction to the reaction is what caused the problem,” another source agreed. “He was arrogant to the press by lacking transparency. He was arrogant to the community when they reacted. And he was arrogant to the politicians who called him on it.”
And he could be that way because Bloomberg just stood by in lock step with his police commissioner.
“I think the mayor supported him to the extent that was unhealthy and that has nothing to do with the great job Ray Kelly has done,” another source said.
“If the mayor had forced him to rethink the way he was doing things, to get him to back down, it might have changed everything. They don’t see anything wrong in anything they do.”
The sources pointed out that Kelly cut his teeth in the turbulent 1980s under former police commissioner Benjamin Ward, the city's first black top cop, and understands the importance of community relations, which he has worked hard to cultivate.
"Perhaps he and Bloomberg miscalculated the reserves in their community bank," one source said.
It's ironic that the NYPD now has two onerous City Council bills hanging over it, and the very real possibility that the feds will send in a monitor on their own, when crime is at record lows instead of during the bad old days more than 20 years ago when crime was out of control.