Former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly had a some surprising things to say about current events in an interview on WABC radio on Wednesday, in a conversation ranging from the events in Ferguson, MO to police body cameras and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Since protests broke out in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, lot of news reports have focused on the heavy-handed use of military-style weapons by police in the area. Observers far and wide have said it may be time to re-think some of the federal grant programs that provide many of those weapons, and reevaluate whether small towns need armored vehicles and grenade launchers.
While seeming to draw a distinction between larger departments — presumably like the NYPD — and smaller cities like Ferguson, Kelly suggested the current situation wasn’t ideal.
“The distribution of this military style equipment to departments big and small I think has to be reexamined. Obviously the public is concerned about it, and the primary question is do they need it? What is the purpose of it in small town America? It intimidates and quite frankly it has very little day to day utility.”
As a possible solution, Kelly suggested having state security forces hang on to the big guns for times when they’re actually needed.
Kelly took the time to cast some doubt on a proposal to outfit the NYPD with wearable body cameras. The plan was prompted by a lawsuit against the NYPD over stop and frisk, and was given a further boost earlier this month by Public Advocate Letitia James. The cameras are seen as a way to reduce both accusations, and actual instances, of excessive force and other mischief by police. At least one pilot program has shown some promise; when the town of Rialto, CA, took the plunge, they had a remarkable reduction in complaints against officers, logging a nearly 90 percent drop.
But Kelly said the idea should be looked at more closely.
“I think the issue has to be examined further. I think we need a lot more data … Will police officers be hesitant to conduct activities and duties that they should be doing? …It’s being pushed by various sources, including the manufacturers of these cameras.”
Taser International, makers of the ubiquitous less than lethal shock device, bro, manufactures one of the most popular camera models, and is a powerhouse in police contracting all over the country.
Kelly also had measured criticism for police forces in Ferguson, but chalked up some of the missteps to small town inexperience.
“This is a major league event that happened in a small city. They just were not prepared for it, almost by definition.”
With what Kelly characterized as a lack of public relations infrastructure and no in-house legal counsel, the department failed to take steps that Kelly suggested could have calmed anger after Brown’s killing. Releasing more information in the immediate aftermath, he said, would have gone a long way to diffusing an angry and protracted response from the community.
Maybe unable to resist, Kelly rounded out the chat with a shot at Obama for not taking the threat of ISIS more seriously before it swallowed a good part of Syria and Iraq.
“This was not a fly by night operation, they’ve been around for a while … the president referred to it [ISIS] as the JV in January of this year. I think he was not sufficiently informed by the intelligence community. This is no JV team.”
Perhaps the president should have known right away they were not ordinary.
Hear the full interview on The Ride Home with Pat Kiernan at this link. Kelly’s interview starts around 17:14.