He has incredible energy. For his job he needs it. For 24 hours a day, seven days a week he commands the 35,000 uniformed men and women in the NYPD.
And New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly seems to have been born for this challenge. He grew up on the Upper West Side, the son of a milkman. His mother worked at Macy’s. He himself had a job as a stock boy at Macy’s before he went off to fight in the Vietnam War.
In an era when most experts, including Kelly, believe that New York remains the Number 1 target of terrorists around the world, it’s reassuring to know he’s in command.
He exudes confidence, in a quiet, almost gentle way.
When I asked him the other day: “Does being at the pinnacle of a department entrusted with protecting the 8 million people of New York keep you up at night?” he replied: “No. I’ve been in this business a long time. This is what I do. This is my job, and this is what the men and women of the Police Department do every day, to make this city, the safest big city in the world.”
He says we've made "tremendous progress" in safeguarding the city since 9/11. But there are no guarantees – “it's a dangerous world.”
Kelly is an innovator. Thus, he decided early in his tenure under Mayor Bloomberg to station NYPD officers at key spots around the world. We have officers now in places like Singapore, London, Tel Aviv, Madrid and Paris. I asked him why this was necessary -- was he competing with the CIA or other federal intelligence people?
He replied: “Well, it’s a unique relationship that police officers have. It’s a cop-to-cop bonding experience, if you will, and we’re able to get a sense of what’s going on in these other countries and we ask the New York question, we call it."
“‘Is there anything going on here that could help us better protect New York, or is there anything here that might endanger New York?’”
When he speaks about this natural bonding of the American cop with the foreign cop, is that the kind of thing that could happen here? Is there a Blue Wall of Silence sometimes, as suspected recently in the case of a cop being investigated in a DWI incident?
Kelly said that the all-for-one, one-for-all attitude is something that happens in every profession, with reporters, lawyers and many others, when there’s an emergency.
“That’s the human condition," he says. Yet there are some admirers of the NYPD and Ray Kelly who may think that police officers are in a unique category -- that they need to be above suspicion.
And, if there’s a cover-up in this case, what will he do? He called that "a hypothetical question" that will have to await completion of the investigation.
He was educated at Manhattan College, St, John’s and NYU law schools, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and he has persuaded people from the Ivy League to join the department.
If Kelly has a hero, or a role model, it’s Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, who served as a police commissioner here near the beginning of the 20th Century.
He uses Roosevelt’s old desk. Reminded that TR once said that if you could kick in the pants the person responsible for all of your trouble, you wouldn’t be able to sit for a month, Kelly laughed.
As for Roosevelt’s observation that you should speak softly and carry a big stick, Kelly laughed again.
"This is New York,” he said. "You’re not going to get too many people speaking softly."
Yet this man does -- even as he manages his department with a tough, firm hand.