It was a critical hour. And it shows how, in this case, the police commissioner saw his job as to calm a neighborhood as much as to lock up terrorists.
At 9:20 p.m., the four people accused of plotting to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx were arrested outside the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center. By 10 o'clock, a group of about 40 rabbis and other community leaders assembled at the center to meet with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Assistant FBI Director Joseph Demarest. They had been summoned to hear an urgent message. Kelly read the criminal complaint that detailed the charges against the four accused in the bomb conspiracy.
At times, the NYPD has been accused of insensitive behavior, notably in a recent report on stop-and-frisk actions. But the emergency meeting he called in Riverdale underlines how sensitive Kelly can be to neighborhood feelings. He decided the news that an effort had been made to bomb two places of worship would be most disturbing. And, thus, just minutes after the accused men had been arrested, the community leaders were meeting in the very synagogue that was one of the targets of the would-be bombers. He wanted the leaders to pass on to their parishioners and constituents that there was no need to worry now.
When the community people arrived, the street outside was teeming with police activity. Officers with assault weapons patrolled the vicinity of the synagogues.
The men charged with plotting the attack had been handcuffed and taken away. But activity by police and FBI officers was still going on. The neighborhood bristled with law enforcement officers. The windows of the suspects' vehicle had been smashed in. Debris remained. And a huge NYPD truck used to block the car carrying the attackers was still in place.
Even as his people joined FBI agents in tracking down the plotters and arresting them, Kelly had another deep concern -- that the very news of the thwarted plot would cause great anxiety in the neighborhood.
Kelly spoke calmly, and matter of factly, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt told me that "He didn't use the device some police officers use of saying sir a lot. That can be very phony. The commissioner was respectful, almost reverential. He read the criminal complaint, then took questions. One person (asked),'If the explosives had been real, how much damage could they have done?' Kelly replied: 'It would have been very serious.'"
"He had already saved our skins. He didn't have to meet with us. He didn't owe us anything. It was a great act of kindness." Immediately after the briefing, Rabbi Rosenblatt sent a phone message to the 725 families in his congregation, passing on what Kelly told the meeting.
It was a special, a unique moment in the history of Ray Kelly and the anti-terrorist battle in this city.
Rabbi Rosenblatt bestowed on the commissioner the highest Jewish accolade when he said "Commissioner Kelly is a mensch."