This summer, Radio Rookies have been reporting on vertical patrols in public housing and stop and frisk policing in the Bronx. Their stories have focused on the relationship between the police and New Yorkers in high crime neighborhoods. Two Radio Rookie reporters got a chance to sit down with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to discuss the tactics of his police force and its impact in the community.
Radio Rookies Temitayo Fagbenle,16, and Ephraim Fromer,17, anxiously waited for the Commissioner in the “Teddy Room,” named after one of Kelly’s heroes, Theodore Roosevelt. It’s just outside of Kelly’s conference room. After a few nervous minutes, Kelly came out with a warm smile and welcomed the teenage Rookies in.
The long conference table is surrounded by walls of floor-to-ceiling screens with live feeds from security cameras throughout the city, 911 calls, #NYPD twitter mentions and information on crimes in progress.
Kelly took a seat at the head of the table with a teenager on either side.
A team of Rookie Reporters recently reported on how forceful stop and frisks in the Bronx have helped sour the community’s relations with the police. Fromer asked Kelly about the tactics of his police force and what teenagers should know about being stopped.
“The best thing for someone to do who’s being stopped is cooperate. Accept it as a fact of urban life." Kelly said. "And it overall is helping to keep New York City safe."
Many Bronx residents, however, say they can't ask questions when police stop them, even as simple as why they are being stopped. Many people say if they do officers often resort to using physical force. Fromer asked why police officers wouldn’t answer peoples’ questions.
“Oh hopefully they do answer them," Kelly said. "It depends on the situation. If it’s a tumultuous situation—police officers show up—'It’s a fight! 40 people in the street!' — you know, you’re going to stop some people who may be running from that scene. I’m not certain you can explain to each one of them in that situation why they’re being stopped.”
A New York Times analysis found that one in five stop and frisks in the city last year used some level of physical force, and in two Bronx precincts it’s double that number. After reporting in several Bronx neighborhoods Rookie reporters found that many people don't trust the police because they say that officers insult them and use physical force during stop and frisks. Some people say they are reluctant to come forward to the police when they have information about a crime because they don’t trust them.
Kelly countered that keeping quiet isn’t smart because it will not help decrease crime or improve the dynamic between the police and the neighborhood.
“You know, we’re in the type of business that people are not always going to like us. We are the bearers of bad news, we issue summonses, we arrest people, we use force, sometimes we use deadly force." Kelly responded. "Now crime is down in this city in the last two decades 80 percent. I’ve been in this business a long time, been in the police department a long time, and our relationships with the communities that we serve are better now than they’ve ever been.”
Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been ardent defenders of stop-and-frisk, saying the program is effective and noting that crime statistics have gone down and police have recovered more guns off the street.
In recent months there has been an increase in gun violence, but Kelly said overall stop-and-frisk works.
“In the 10 years before Mayor Bloomberg came to office there were 11,058 murders, in the 10 years since Mayor Bloomberg has been in office there were 5,430 murders. So that is a reduction of 5,628 murders. Now that is a dramatic, profound number. And that represents lots of young people of color’s lives if history is any guide." Kelly explained. "Ninety-six-percent of the shooting victims in New York City are black or Hispanic, so we’re saving lives here and stop and frisk is a controversial practice but we think it’s an important one, a vital one.”
Kelly kept talking beyond the 30 minutes allotted for the interview. And, in his own way, tried to help community relations by offering the Rookies NYPD hats and mugs, as well as cookies. On their way out they took him up on his offer, stashing extra cookies for their train ride home.