Ray Kelly was the longest serving commissioner in NYPD history. In an interview Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he suggested that a bachelor’s degree should be a requirement for anyone who wants to be hired as a police officer.
He also said that the killing of Walter L. Scott by a cop in North Charleston, South Carolina, helped convert him to the position that body cameras ought to be tried everywhere––but in general, he blames minority communities rather than police officers when the two come into conflict in cities like Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri.
Here’s interviewer John Dickerson pressing him on policing problems:
Dickerson: When you look at the flashpoint moments you mentioned in North Charleston, in New York, in Baltimore, in Ferguson, and there's also two dozen Justice Department investigations of different police forces, there's obviously a systemic problem––maybe not across all police forces, but there's something happening in many places. Where should we look for where the problem comes from?
Kelly: Well, the problems are coming from, quite frankly, cities that have a significant minority community, that's where you see the flashpoints.
And quite frankly, that's where you see a disproportionate amount of crime. That crime attracts police. And the interaction is where the friction is. And of course this is not something new. But now we have everybody over ten years of age with a camera. Now we have a 24 hour news cycle, just a lot more focus on it. But that's for the most part where the issues lie today.
John Dickerson: Is that a problem that comes from lack of training of individual members of the police? Is it something that police chiefs have not been paying attention to, this conflict in the community?
Ray Kelly: No I think there is a lot of attention being paid to it. It’s just that human beings are going to make mistakes. Police officers are human.
That’s when Kelly raised the North Charleston blue-on-black murder. “I mean, there's no excuse for what happened. That was an out-and-out murder. That was horrific,” he said. “Of course, there are a lot of people who have been suspicious of the police for a long time, and their suspicions were confirmed, because it appears that this police officer not only shot Walter Scott in the back, it appears that he was trying to plant evidence ... People say aha, this is what we believed all along. You see that so graphically portrayed and it's going to keep the flames going … In some people's minds there may be that script. I think this is clearly, clearly an aberration.”
Nevertheless, it shifted his opinion on body cameras.
“What I said initially was that I think we need to test cameras. Because they will make police officers hesitate, no question in my mind,” he explained. “That can be a good thing in some people's minds. Or it can be a bad thing. I thought we needed more time to look at it.” Having seen that event, however, “we'll see that film for decades to come,” he continued. “I won't be around, but it will be around. I think any police officer wearing a camera would never have engaged in that type of activity.”
As he sees it, “the train has left the station as far as cameras are concerned. I think police departments should embrace it, should not resist it. There are issues as to how to store it, who gets access. But I believe you will see a lot more heroic effort and great work on the part of police who are wearing cameras than misconduct.”
Still, he believes cameras may have a downside. “Human reaction may be, hey, whatever I'm going to get engaged in will be filmed,” he said. “There's a big fight going on. Maybe I'll sit in the patrol car for an extra 20 seconds while it comes down.”