AIF Blog

Former NYPD Commissioner Talks Policing in America

Oct 22, 2015
CATEGORY: Society, U.S.A.
Raymond Kelly
In the ongoing debate over policing in America, former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, whose recently released memoir is titled Vigilance, has been making some headlines. A staunch champion of proactive policing and of police officers in general, Kelly, the city’s longest-serving commissioner at 13 years, sat down with journalist John Dickerson at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival to discuss whether policing in America needs rethinking.
Kelly argued that, in a way, today is a golden era for policing. Police officers have never been better trained and better educated, and crime has gone down significantly across the country, he said, as a result of smarter policing and better use of technology.
“And the beneficiary of that is communities of color in major cities,” said Kelly. “But that’s where the tension lies. So it’s also a difficult time for policing.”
It’s only natural that those minority communities with frequent flash points and a disproportionate amount of crime attract police interaction, said Kelly, who pointed out that in New York City 97 percent of shooting victims are black or Latino. And while that’s nothing new, now people are much more aware of things through the ubiquitous use of cell phone cameras and 24-hour news cycles. “Horrific” instances such as the shooting death by a white police officer of unarmed black man Walter Scott are “clearly an aberration,” he said, although “now we have proof this type of activity goes on.”
Kelly spoke in favor of body cameras and of psychological testing on police officers, especially to test for bullying. But he stopped short of calling for evaluation of implicit bias, as that would probably be too challenging and prone to lawsuits.
He suggested that the job has gotten so complex and demanding that perhaps police officers should be required to have a four-year college degree. More African-American police officers are needed, perhaps by recruiting through black churches, said Kelly, although he did point out that the current proportion of black police officers is “not bad.”
And he defended the notion that de-escalation is not taught to police officers, although circumstances are often quite different in non-academic settings, he said.
Asked by Dickerson what people should know about police officers, Kelly said to remember they’re not robots and that adrenaline flows during encounters, particularly when they’re concerned about their own safety. They may be aware of a history of crime in certain locations that might drive their conduct. And, “police officers have their guns out more than the public realizes,” Kelly added, “because they want to go home at night, so they’re going to take their weapon out in dangerous situations.” 
Here, Kelly explains the controversial stop-and-frisk tactic, which he used during his tenure as commissioner but was later ruled unconstitutional.
View the session in its entirety here.
By Catherine Lutz, Guest Blogger
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