Ray Kelly: A Distinguished Leader and Protector

ACAMS Today had the opportunity to visit with former New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Ray W. Kelly to discuss his expansive career in public service, his insight on counterterrorism and what he calls the three Cs.

Kelly is currently vice chairman of K2 Intelligence. As a former NYPD Commissioner, Kelly brings decades of experience setting strategy to combat threats faced by nations around the world, by the public and private sector. He provides valuable insight into the design and development of tailored enterprise risk solutions for K2 Intelligence clients around the world. Both internal and external risks affecting the safety of client assets and the reputation and stability of their key stakeholders are addressed. Kelly provides C-suite executives and government municipalities’ top-level guidance on issues such as infrastructure safety, regulatory compliance and government enforcement response.

Kelly is a distinguished leader and protector and is New York City’s longest-serving police commissioner. Under his leadership, the NYPD has been described as the premier domestic public-safety agency in the United States. Kelly established the first Counterterrorism Bureau of any municipal police department in the country and built the Department’s Intelligence Bureau, creating a global intelligence program with detectives stationed in cities abroad.

Kelly joined K2 Intelligence from Cushman & Wakefield where he was president of the firm’s Risk Management Services group. In the private sector he also served as president of Investigative Group International and as chief of security at Bear Stearns. Kelly is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an ABC News consultant.

Kelly’s almost 50-year career in public service includes serving as commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service and as Under Secretary of Enforcement at the U.S. Treasury Department. He served as a vice president of Interpol and directed the International Police Force in Haiti, where he was awarded the exceptionally meritorious service commendation from the President of the United States. Kelly is also a retired United States Marine Corps Reserves Colonel with 30 years of service in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, including serving a combat tour in Vietnam. He received 14 citations of merit for outstanding police work during his tenure at the NYPD and was awarded France’s highest decoration, the Legion d’Honneur. Kelly is the author of the best-selling book Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City, Hachette Books Group USA.1

Kelly received his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law, his LLM from New York University Graduate School of Law, his MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and his BBA from Manhattan College. He is an attorney and a member of the New York State Bar. He has also been awarded honorary degrees from the Catholic University of America, Manhattan College, St. John’s University, the State University of New York, the College of St. Rose, Iona College, Marist College, New York University, Pace University, Quinnipiac University, and St. Thomas Aquinas College.

ACAMS Today: Why did you want to become a police officer?

Ray Kelly: My introduction to policing came as a result of a part-time apprenticeship program in the NYPD for police cadets. Its goal was to bring four-year college graduates into the department and upon completion of the program I became a NYC police officer. The opportunity to make a difference, the excitement and the breadth of experience convinced me that it was the right career choice for me.

AT: How did your experiences in the U.S. Marines and in Vietnam shape your future choices, both professionally and academically?

RK: I’ve often said that virtually everything I’ve learned about leadership I learned early on in the USMC. Among other things, the Marine Corps is a great teaching organization that emphasizes its core values and gives you real world opportunities to apply them. The lessons learned in leading fellow Marines in a combat situation are invaluable.

AT: When you were appointed as the NYPD Commissioner for the second time in 2002, under Mayor Bloomberg, you established what you called the three Cs. What were the three Cs and how did they shape your tenure as NYPD Commissioner?

RK: The three C’s—which were the rubric of the police department during my administration—were counterterrorism, crime suppression and community relations. Our administration started just three and a half months after the horrendous events of September 11, and we knew that we had to do more to better protect NYC. We established our own counterterrorism bureau, reinforced our intelligence gathering and analytical capabilities and brought on board a cadre of world-class experts to help us in this endeavor. Crime suppression was addressed by applying emerging technologies with the vigor and expertise of NYC police officers. As a result of using operation impact that utilized new police officers who just graduated from the police academy and a gang focused initiative called operation Crew Cut, crime and specifically murders were driven down to record lows.

AT: One of the three Cs you mentioned was community relations. How can other law enforcement departments and financial institutions create successful relationships in their communities?

RK: Our third C—community relations—is something that needs to be worked on every day by all members of the department. Because of what we ask police officers to do—sometimes use force (even deadly force), issue traffic citations, arrest individuals, and generally be the bearers of bad news—the potential for tension always exists. NYC is the most diverse city in the world and because of that we engage in a major recruiting effort that brought on board police officers born in 106 countries. This has given the department diversity unmatched in law enforcement and helped us interact with the complexities of New York.

AT: What other methods and tactics did you employ as NYPD Commissioner in the fight against terrorism?

RK: One of the many initiatives that helped us in protecting New York from a terrorist attack was to station police officers in foreign countries. Because of the departments’ diversity we were able to assign officers who may have been born in the country in one of the 11 overseas postings. This network has been extremely helpful in providing real-time information as to terrorist activities throughout the world. We brought into the department people with federal government experience who brought unique skillsets to the job. That included former FBI agents, former CIA personnel, a defense intelligence agency, drug enforcement administration and assistant U.S. attorneys.

AT: In your book Vigilance, you discuss 16 terror plots that were foiled by law enforcement and most of the public had no idea that these terror plots had occurred, which of those plots surprised you the most?

RK: The most surprising plot was that involving Faisal Shahzad who drove into Times Square on May 1, 2010, with a car full of explosives and attempted to detonate it. Because he changed the formula that he was given in Pakistan, no explosion took place. However, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Although we had great pride in knowing about people who may have had intentions of harming Americans, no federal or local agency had known anything about Shahzad until that evening. We were quite lucky that the bomb that he assembled did not detonate and he was arrested attempting to flee the country two days later.

AT: You also served as the U.S. Customs Commissioner for a few years and you were involved in Operation Casablanca, what tactics did you use to bring down one of the biggest drug money laundering cartels?

RK: The U.S. Customs Service and other U.S. investigative agencies used very talented undercover agents to bring about significant arrests and convictions in this case. Casablanca showed the extent of money laundering involved in the wholesale drug business and shed light on the complexity of these operations. It was the template used by customs and other agencies to conduct intricate money laundering investigations that followed.

AT: You have spent almost your entire career in various leadership roles, what is the key to being a successful leader?

RK: Having empathy for those you lead. One of the elements that’s helpful in this regard is to have the experience of having been in the position of your subordinates. It allows you to make judgements based on the real world impact of your decision making. Law enforcement and the military are areas in which this is particularly important.

AT: You hold degrees from various universities, such as St. John’s University School of Law and Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, to name a few. What impact has education had on your professional career?

RK: Education is the much needed foundation for virtually any career or profession these days. And it is important that one continues to learn throughout their lifetime. It’s said that a body of knowledge can become obsolete within five years. As a result, we must all strive to continue to educate ourselves if we want to be productive members of society.

AT: Recently, police departments are receiving increased scrutiny on how they are handling their jobs, what advice do you have for the public and for police officers on how to deal with this public scrutiny?

RK: The proliferation of cellphone cameras means that virtually everything police officers do may now be filmed by the public they serve. Police officers have to be cognizant of this and always strive to act as if all of their actions could appear on video screens throughout the world. In response to this, I think it is now time that police officers themselves be equipped with body-worn cameras. So as to level the playing field as far as addressing videos that may not show an entire sequence of events. It will also increase the level of trust that exists between the public and its police.

AT: What is your current project and what are you doing now professionally?

RK: I am now the vice chair of K2 Intelligence, a cutting-edge business investigations and intelligence firm with significant cyber security, construction monitoring and anti-money laundering capabilities. The company was founded by Jules Kroll, an icon in the security business, and his son Jeremy Kroll, its chief executive officer. In this dynamic and changing environment, the company does a great job in addressing the always evolving needs of its clients.

Interviewed by: Karla Monterrosa-Yancey, CAMS, editor-in-chief, ACAMS, Miami, FL, USA, kmonterrosa@acams.org

  1. Kelly’s book Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City is available for purchase on amazon.com.

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