If you want to see how a top-tier law enforcement boss tackled with, and defeated 13 different terrorist threats to the city of New York, and learn about the man behind it all, Ray Kelly, this is the book for you.
– – –
Ray Kelly was the commissioner of the NYPD for two different terms, being the man with the longest serving Commissioner tenure in the city’s history and also the first ever to hold the post for two non-consecutive terms, being both the 37th and 41st NYC Police Commissioner. He was also a Marine Corps Reserve Colonel, Director of Police under the United Nations Mission in Haiti, and an Interpol Vice President. During the Clinton administration, he also served as Treasury Department Under Secretary for Enforcement, as the Customs Service Commissioner.
And this man decided to write a book about his life and it makes for a fascinating and pragmatic read.
I first heard about Ray Kelly during one of those incredibly insightful interviews that Howard Stern conducts over on SiriusXM. The conversation completely intrigued me as they talked about the safety and security of the city of New York and Americans in general. I was so intrigued by the things he said, that they made so much sense but things I never considered, that I went ahead and picked up a copy of his book, Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City.
It’s as much an autobiography as it is a working outline of how Kelly addressed the threat of terrorism. He breaks down the premises of protecting the city, of how he got it done, and in the process he makes a pretty good argument for preemptive surveillance of folks who are suspected of being terrorists. Some people call that a violation of rights, and to be honest, I don’t care. I’d rather have these vague set of rights violated for a little bit than to be a name on a memorial marker.
It’s crazy to read this book as you start to realize that any major city’s police department has to be scrambling to keep terror attacks at bay all the while, (in some cases) fighting political aspirations designed to block productive security measures in favor of their own ideas. What got my attention was how often potential attacks were stopped, all the while, the public was idly living their lives, not realizing what was going on right underneath their feet.
Reading how he dealt with the aftermath of 9-11, and how much input he and his team had in redesigning the 9-11 tribute tower, and how much political subterfuge he had to defeat to get the tower done right so as to not be another target was amazing.
This is a great tale of Kelly’s life, and along another angle, it’s also his chance at setting the record straight on a few issues where he was dealt a crappy hand via political angles or what not.
His life story could be considered inspirational for those who might want to see how one might forge a successful career path. He also clearly spells out how the political landscape screws over practical and pragmatic policing.
The most intriguing part of the book are the middle chapters, when he spells out or gives the reader an inside view of how they kept New York safe from terrorism and lowered the crime rate by dedicated means despite the focused public attacks by various political parties.
In one instance that stuck out to me, he started a program in the NYPD to get more police out in the neighborhoods. Once in the neighborhoods, he started a program where cops could stop and inquire of persons acting suspicious, what they were up to, and if the officer felt it was warranted, a quick body pat-down ensued. It was called or referred to as “Stop and Frisk.” Suspicious meaning someone who might be jimmying a door lock to a house, trying car door handles of every car on a street, and things like that.
Kelly was accused of racial targeting for this practice and he and the city were sued. But a study that he had The Rand Corporation conduct, showed that despite the claims that his program was targeting a specific minority group unfairly, the study showed quite the opposite, that if anything, his policy was statistically not matching up with the population demographics, thus, proving his policy was not targeting any specific minority. But then, that study was not allowed into evidence for the lawsuit and trail. (There’s that political subterfuge that was at work against Kelly at times.)
The other surprising part of this telling, was how he took his local law enforcement practices to an international scale to get things done right.
Like I said, this was a fascinating, eye-opening read that almost parallels a good fiction tale. If you’re of the mind, you should check it out. I think you will enjoy it. Check out Vigilance, on Amazon.