Since the founding of the Jewish Community Relations Council of NY in 1976, we have worked closely with law enforcement agencies charged with safeguarding New York’s Jewish community, especially the NYPD. Over that period there have been 10 police commissioners. Without a doubt, Raymond Kelly stands above the rest. The events of the past week reinforce that opinion.
As the confrontation with Iran intensifies, intelligence analysts around the globe are raising the concern that there could be terrorist attacks on American and Jewish targets. Against this background, the AP recently released another of its “revelations” based on a 2006 NYPD planning document analyzing the implications of a U.S.-Iran conflict and its impact on New York City. The document explained, “New York City has always been a prime target for terrorists and as the possibility of military action grows stronger, so does the danger of New York City being attacked by the agents of the Iranian government or its sympathizers.” The AP report offered the planning report as proof that the NYPD spied on the Muslim community.
As a community relations agency, intensively engaged in inter-group relations, we build bridges to, and work with, many leaders in New York’s Muslim communities. The NYPD must consider how outside events can trigger actions that can affect the security of New Yorkers, and who might carry them out. Six years ago, the NYPD document cited by AP identified strategic options — it was not an operational handbook. The document focused on groups and individuals with known ties to terrorist activities and imagined what might happen and what needed to be done if the situation in Iran worsened. We know the idea that all Muslims (rather than people with specific ties or histories) are ready and willing to act as Iran’s proxies is both ridiculous and counterproductive. The document shows that the NYPD agrees.
The 9/11 Commission commented in its final report, “Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies.” The 9/11 report cited many indications that an attack might happen, but nobody connected the dots. When Kelly began his second term at the helm of the NYPD he knew that to protect New Yorkers, he had to develop new skills and new strategies to outflank those wishing to do us harm.
Every day, the NYPD Counterterrorism and Intelligence Divisions develop concrete steps to protect New Yorkers. We cannot assume that New Yorkers will continue to get lucky because those wishing to bomb Times Square are unable to get a device to explode. The men and women of the NYPD work constantly to “connect the dots” to protect all of us.
Kelly’s job has not been easy. The city’s budget is tight and he has to make do with 5,000 fewer officers than the department had on 9/11. Despite the challenges, the NYPD drove down crime by 35 percent over the past 10 years, and homicides are at a record low. Now, New York is the safest big city in America.
Most importantly, 1,000 additional officers are assigned to the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Divisions, created in 2002. When someone “sees something” and “says something,” they (often in conjunction with the FBI) are the ones tasked to check it out. Others develop cutting-edge studies about homegrown terrorists, how to engineer high-risk buildings to protect against terrorist attack and how to respond to armed intruders.
It goes without saying that no threat would justify the NYPD or the FBI operating in an unconstitutional manner. The Intelligence Division works under a set of federal court-sanctioned guidelines. No evidence has been presented that NYPD Intelligence Division investigations violated the guidelines. The CIA Inspector General reviewed the relationship between the CIA and the NYPD and found that no laws were broken.
Most importantly, by following leads, law enforcement agencies identified and arrested those responsible for the plots to blow up synagogues in Riverdale and in Manhattan. Over the last two decades there have been 18 attacks and plots against targets here — eight of which included Jews or Jewish institutions. Sometimes good intelligence information is the best defense. Complacency can be dangerous.
Today’s NYPD is anything but complacent. For example, people notice the police presence at the “Celebrate Israel” parade, but probably are not aware of other measures, both big and small, employed by the NYPD. (For example, the “No Parking” signs and towed cars on the side streets along the parade route make it harder to plant a car bomb). Every year we hear complaints about the groups protesting against Israel at the parade. The NYPD protects our right to celebrate and theirs to demonstrate.
Peaceful demonstrators are a byproduct of our democratic society. But when two individuals who called themselves the Arabian Knightz held up signs reading, “Exterminate the Zionist Roaches” and “Death to the Juice,” the NYPD knew who they were and had a team of officers monitoring them. Soon, as the result of months of investigation, they were arrested at JFK, en route to Somalia for training to kill Americans. Jews are in the crosshairs and the NYPD understands it, plans for it and watches out for our community.
As the JCRC-NY partners with the NYPD to protect the Jewish community, our inter-group relations division has a long history of working with leaders of New York’s Muslim communities. We stood with them last month when the Al-Khoei mosque was firebombed; they stood with us after arrests in the Riverdale bomb plot. More often than not, there is mutual support for one another’s issues. Working together, Jews and Muslims (and others) can build a stronger, more vibrant New York.
A central factor in the revitalization of the city is the NYPD of the 21st century. It is a bureaucracy with imagination on so many levels. All New Yorkers reap the benefits of their successes.
Under Kelly’s leadership, the NYPD is considered the finest police force in the nation; combining professionalism and respect; imagination and creativity; and old-fashioned police work with modern crime-solving technologies. The Jewish community and all New Yorkers are fortunate to have Commissioner Kelly, and his team of consummate professionals, to keep us safe.
The authors are the president, executive vice president and CEO and the associate executive director, respectively, of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.