NYPD's Ray Kelly is not backing down on stop-and-frisk

The potential candidate for Homeland Security chief says the controversial policy is "guilty of saving 7,383 lives"

Ray Kelly
(Image credit: Getty Images)

On Friday, President Obama gave a powerful, emotional briefing in which he criticized racial profiling. Less than a week later, the man Obama is reportedly considering as the new chief of Homeland Security vehemently defended NYPD's stop-and-frisk program.

In an editorial in The Wall Street Journal titled, "The NYPD: Guilty of Saving 7,383 Lives," New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claimed that the NYPD's "proactive policing strategies" had saved 7,383 lives during Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 11 years in office, mostly those of "young men of color."

Kelly didn't dispute that most of those stopped by the NYPD — 90 percent, according to the NYCLU — have been black and Hispanic. Instead, he argued that the disparity was due to the neighborhoods the NYPD focused on, not because police officers singled out individuals by race:

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Racial profiling is a disingenuous charge at best and an incendiary one at worst, particularly in the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. The effect is to obscure the rock-solid legal and constitutional foundation underpinning the police department's tactics and the painstaking analysis that determines how we employ them.

In 2003, when the NYPD recognized that 96% of the individuals who were shot and 90% of those murdered were black and Hispanic, we concentrated our officers in those minority neighborhoods that had experienced spikes in crime … From the beginning, we've combined this strategy with a proactive policy of engagement. We stop and question individuals about whom we have reasonable suspicion. [The Wall Street Journal]

Kelly wrote that it's "understandable that someone who has done nothing wrong will be angry if he is stopped," but concluded that the program was effective and fair, partly because "the number of civilian complaints in 2012 was the lowest in the past five years."

Not all of his critics were appeased. Salon's Alex Pareene accused Kelly of fudging the numbers, arguing that civilian complaints were low in 2012 because Hurricane Sandy forced the Civilian Complaint Review Board to move offices and change its phone number, "at which point complaints suddenly dropped."

Pareene also took issue with Kelly attributing the 29 percent drop in crime in 2013 to the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policies:

Kelly does not mention that murders have declined along with stop-and-frisks. In the first quarter of this year, the NYPD carried out 51 percent fewer stop-and-frisks than in the first quarter of 2012. That is more than 100,000 fewer stops. The result has not been more murder. [Salon]

While Pareene questioned Kelly's facts, The Atlantic Wire's Emily Badger questioned his viability as Obama's potential choice to head the Department of Homeland Security.

"If you parse out their public statements on this subject, it's almost as if these two men have been having an ongoing conversation about racial profiling from opposing podiums at the same rally," Badger wrote. "Given Obama's own powerful articulation of what it's like to be on the other end of racial profiling as a black man, the discordant comments from Kelly on the very same topic would seem to disqualify him from expanding his ideas beyond New York."

Kelly said on Tuesday that he was "flattered" after hearing President Obama's comments that the police commissioner would "obviously" be "very well qualified for the [Homeland Security] job."

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Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.