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New York City Police Commissioner Says Counterterrorism Top Priority


When Ray Kelly took over the post of New York City Police Commissioner in 2002, the department did not have a counterterrorism unit. His appointment came in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, and since then one of his priorities has been preventing another attack. In an exclusive interview with VOA's Kane Farabaugh, Kelly talks about the challenges of operating one of the largest police counterterrorism units in the country.

This is not the first time that Ray Kelly has sat behind the desk once used by former New York Police Superintendent -- and later U.S. President -- Theodore Roosevelt.

It was also his desk during his first term as Police Commissioner, when terrorists first attacked the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on February 26th, 1993.

"We had six killed and over a thousand injured. That should have been a wake-up call for this city and the country, but unfortunately it wasn't," Kelly said.

When terrorists attacked again on September 11th, 2001, Ray Kelly was a private citizen, working in midtown Manhattan when the towers fell. He says, "People saying that the building could never come down, and seeing it crumble, obviously, it was a life altering moment you might say for me."

The mayoral election that brought Michael Bloomberg into City Hall also brought Ray Kelly back to the police department in 2002.

But Kelly was determined that this time, things would be different.

Almost from the moment he took over the office, he began transforming elements of the police department into one of the most high-tech and widely dispersed counterterrorism units in the United States, focused on one mission.

Kelly explains, "Devote whatever it takes to make certain that we're doing everything we reasonably can do to protect the city and to deploy our resources effectively to protect the city."

Protecting the city is sometimes visible to the public by deploying hundreds of officers by land, sea and air.

On the ground, specialized patrols randomly select locations for extra patrols. At Madison Square Garden, heavily armed officers and canine units are on guard during a graduation ceremony.

In the air, new helicopters with specialized cameras and monitoring equipment provide the NYPD with an overhead view that makes it harder for criminals to hide or elude police.

While they provide the "eyes in the sky" for the police department, each day throughout the city, more and more areas fall under constant surveillance. Kelly explains, "We're putting in a program in lower Manhattan that will involve at least a thousand cameras from the public sector and well over 2,000 cameras patched into that system from the private sector."

Besides surveillance, lower Manhattan -- site of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks and home to the financial heart of America -- is the focus of Commissioner Kelly's plans for beefed up security.

"That's where physical barriers will be put in place so that the area can be walled off in extreme situations. We have, and will be putting in shortly, a system of license plate readers that will enable us to monitor a vehicle in the area in terms of license plate recognition," he said.

Kelly gauges the success of the NYPD counterterrorism operation by the lack of success of a terrorist attack.

While there have been many threats, there has not been an attack in New York City since he took over as Police Commissioner in 2002.

Kelly asserts, "We never declare victory. We say that we're doing everything we reasonably can do to protect the city and we're gonna do it tomorrow as well."

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