- - Sunday, October 18, 2015


Feb. 26, 1993 marked the day that “the modern age of Islamic jihadi terrorism came to New York,” Ray Kelly tells us in his new book, “Vigilance: My Life Serving America and protecting Its Empire City.”

On that day terrorists bombed the World Trade Center. A 1,500-pound explosive device was left in a rented truck in the center’s parking garage, and had it been placed in a more strategic area of the garage, the bomb just might have toppled the north tower into the south tower. Thankfully, it was not. But the towers, as we all know, would fall in the second attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Kelly had been New York City’s police commissioner just over four months when the first attack occurred. Six people were killed and 1,042 people were injured in the blast, including 88 firefighters and 35 police officers. Mr. Kelly describes the sad and chaotic time and the ensuing investigation.

The investigation discovered that al Qaeda, a terrorist organization not well known at the time, was responsible for attack. The operation was planned by Ramzi Yousef, who later claimed in a U.S. Court, “Yes, I am a terrorist, and I am proud of it.”

In “Vigilance” readers learn about Mr. Kelly’s remarkable life and impressive resume. He grew up in the Upper West Side of Manhattan to middle-class Irish-American parents and attended Catholic schools. He became a Marine officer and fought in Vietnam. He later became an NYPD officer, earned advanced degrees, and rose through the ranks to become the city’s 37th police commissioner in November, 1992.

In addition to dealing with the aftermath of the first World Trade Center bombing, Mr. Kelly instituted crime-fighting programs that began the city’s historic statistical drop in crime.

After leaving the NYPD post in 1994, Mr. PKelly traveled to Haiti as the director of the International Police Monitors for the U.S.-led Multinational Interim Force. In 1996 Mr. Kelly served as the undersecretary of treasury for enforcement, overseeing the Secret Service; ATF, and other federal law enforcement agencies. He later asked for a demotion and became the commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service. In 2000 he left government and found work in the corporate world. In January, 2002, Mr. Kelly returned to 1 Police Plaza for his second tenure as police commissioner when Mike Bloomberg became the city’s mayor. He is the longest-serving police commissioner in city history.

As the post-9/11 police commissioner, Mr. Kelly saw the new terrorism threat: suicide bombers, overseas training camps, sophisticated masterminds, a willingness to kill innocent civilians, technical expertise, powerful religious fervor, a fully developed concept of martyrdom, money and a communications network and a large immigrant population in America easy to hide in.

“Taken all together,” Mr. Kelly writes, “the new breed of Islamic jihadists were more daunting than anything America has seen before.”

To counter this new threat and not wanting to rely solely on the federal government, he created the first municipal police department counterterrorism bureau and expanded the intelligence division with a deputy commissioner over each group that reported directly to him. Mr. Kelly hired a former top CIA official to run the intelligence division and a retired Marine Corps general to run the counterterrorism bureau. He also stationed NYPD detectives overseas in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In his book, Mr. Kelly proudly describes the 16 plots against New York City that were foiled by the NYPD and federal law enforcement, citing among them the plots to attack the Brooklyn Bridge and the NYC Financial District.

Mr. Kelly also defends the proactive police tactic he calls “street inquiries,” or more commonly known as “stop and frisk.” Mr. Kelly believes “stop, question, and sometimes frisk” better describes the police actions. He believes that the police street inquiries prevented violent crime by confiscating illegal guns from criminals.

“What bothers me — and still bothers me — is that the stop-and-frisk controversy managed to undermine a valuable, appropriate, and legal — let me emphasize legal — tool of modern law enforcement, “Mr. Kelly writes. “One that had helped to save literally thousands of innocent lives.”

In his book, Mr. Kelly also touches on his family life and his personal and political dealings with the NYC mayors, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, as well as Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

“Vigilance’ is an interesting book about a most interesting time by a top cop whose vigilance helped keep his city, and the country, safe.

Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime.

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