Just hours after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced her resignation, Sen. Chuck Schumer said who he’d like to see replace her: NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
“There is no doubt Ray Kelly would be a great DHS Secretary, and I have urged the White House to very seriously consider his candidacy,” said New York Democrat Schumer in a July 12 statement. “While it would be New York’s loss, Commissioner Kelly’s appointment as the head of DHS would be a great boon for the entire country.”
The following week, President Obama gave some juice to the rumor that Kelly was being considered, saying he was “well-qualified” to run the Department of Homeland Security. However, some of Kelly’s policing methods have earned him the ire of progressive groups.
“I think it’s a horrible idea,” Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson told msnbc. “His history in New York City, particularly with stop-and-frisk, will send a very clear message about the tools that Homeland Security will see as most important.”
Kelly is perhaps best-known nationally for presiding over a sharp increase in the number of stop-and-frisks conducted by New York police officers each year. During Kelly’s most recent tenure as police commissioner, which began in 2002, there have been over five million stop-and-frisks, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). Over 86% of those stopped were black or Latino.
He also played an instrumental role in preventing the prosecution of an alleged 9/11 conspirator within the civilian court system. Shortly after Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would be put on trial in New York City, Kelly told the press that he had not been consulted, and that holding a civilian trial would “raise the threat level of this city.” Additionally, he outlined a $415 million plan to institute “security zones” around lower Manhattan over the course of the trial. Kelly, along with Sen. Schumer and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, requested that the federal government cover the cost of implementing the plan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was ultimately tried by a Guantanamo Bay military commission, setting a precedent for terror cases to come.
While Kelly is a “serious, professional, dedicated law enforcement leader,” said NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman, he also “plays fast and loose with the Constitution, which is evident in the failure of the police department to respect the Constitutional constraints on stop-and-frisk, and the extraordinary expansion of suspicionless stop-and-frisk that impacts innocent people of color, mainly, under his watch.”
The NYCLU does not take positions on candidates for government positions, but “[t]he NYPD’s failure under Commissioner Kelly to give the Constitution its due would be a serious problem in any government position,” said Lieberman.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is representing the plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Kelly has defended the police department against accusations of racial profiling by saying that, if anything, black New Yorkers are being “under-stopped.”
Robinson argued that African-Americans were disproportionately harmed by the policy.
“We have a real problem with any type of profiling, and the use of racial profiling as a means for law enforcement,” he said. “It has not proven to be effective, and the process dehumanizes whole blocks of communities and violates our civil rights.”
Stop-and-frisk is not the only reason that Kelly is distrusted by civil liberties groups. Kelly was police commissioner when the NYPD was found to be spying on Muslim communities in New York in collaboration with the CIA. As more details about the program came to light, it became clear that the NYPD had actually been spying on Muslims throughout the northeastern United States. The ACLU, which declined to comment about Kelly’s possible ascension to DHS head, is representing several Muslim New Yorkers in a lawsuit against the NYPD over the spying program.
Kelly’s heavy-handed tactics were evident during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, when the NYPD arrested 1,800 protesters–more than had been arrested at any other political convention in U.S. history. Eight years later, a federal judge ruled that hundreds of those arrests had been made without probable cause.
Before being rumored as the next head of DHS, Kelly was also seen to be a possible contender in the 2013 New York mayoral race, despite his insistence that he would not run. The same speculation about a possible Mayor Ray Kelly bubbled up in 2009, until Bloomberg ran for a third term and decisively ruined Kelly’s chances.
If Kelly is chosen as the head of Homeland Security, it will not be the first time he has taken the leading role within a federal agency. Previously, Kelly has served as Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service and Under Secretary for Enforcement at the Treasury Department, both under President Bill Clinton.
Additionally, it would not be the first time a sitting president has heeded Sen. Schumer’s recommendation to head DHS. In 2004, Schumer recommended that President George W. Bush select then-NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the agency.
“If there were ever a state that deserved to have one of its citizens appointed head of homeland security, it’s New York,” Schumer said at the time. “Bernie Kerik is a tried-and-true New Yorker who understands our city, our state, our problems, and our needs. We look forward to working with him to bring greater help in terms of dollars and security for New York.”
Though Kerik was nominated by Bush, he later withdrew his nomination for “personal reasons.” He was later indicted for misleading the White House during the nomination vetting process, and for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in free perks from contractors applying to work for New York City, among other charges.
Updated 7:00 p.m.