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NYPD still on guard against terrorism, commissioner says

Police have thwarted 12 plots since Sept. 11, says Raymond Kelly, who presents an upbeat look at New York crime statistics while expressing concern about national security.

January 19, 2011|By Geraldine Baum, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from New York — New York remains a prime target for terrorists nearly 10 years after the attack on the World Trade Center, but the New York Police Department is constantly refining its efforts against terrorism and has thwarted a dozen plots against the city since Sept. 11, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Tuesday.

NYPD: In the Jan. 19 Section A, an article about the New York Police Department incorrectly said that the nonprofit Police Foundation raises $100 million a year to support NYPD programs. The foundation has raised $100 million since its inception in 1971. —

But lately, with increased terrorist activity abroad, especially in Europe, Kelly said he was concerned that the U.S. government was giving easy access to "people who seek to do us harm."

He cited ways he said terrorists could slip into America undetected: A visa waiver program allows travelers from 36 countries, mostly in Europe, to come here without ever appearing at an American embassy or consulate; U.S. borders remain unsecured in many areas; and the government is so clogged with requests from political asylum-seekers that it gives a pass to potential terrorists.

"We know these problems exist," Kelly said in an address on the state of his department. "We don't know how big they are. They are all national security issues best addressed by the federal government."

Kelly was careful to remain neutral when he was questioned about whether he agreed with Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), who has complained that the Muslim American community is becoming increasingly uncooperative with police investigators. King, who recently became chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has scheduled a hearing next month to look at radicalization among U.S. Muslims.

Kelly called King a "tremendous American" who has been supportive of the police department, and said the NYPD kept in constant touch with Muslim leaders. "There's a lot of interaction," Kelly said, noting that he regularly spoke at mosques.

Kelly, 69, has been commissioner under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg since 2002. He spoke at an early breakfast at the Regency Hotel in midtown Manhattan before an elite audience of donors to the nonprofit Police Foundation, which raises $100 million a year to support the city's police.

Using slides and charts, Kelly ran through statistics that mostly showed crime in New York on the decline, even though the department has 6,000 fewer officers than it did in 2001. The city experienced an increase in several categories of violent crime last year, including homicides, which were up 13%. Still, New York, with 532 homicides, had the lowest rate among the nation's large urban areas (about six for every 100,000 residents).

Kelly credited better policing techniques and better-trained officers, but he also defended the department against claims from civil liberties groups who say the department manipulates crime statistics to paint a rosier picture of the city. Kelly said crimes were "occasionally" misclassified but that mostly the reporting was accurate. To clear up any doubts about the data, Kelly recently appointed three former prosecutors — all senior and well-regarded members of the New York bar — to scrutinize the NYPD's reporting and auditing systems.

The only area in which Kelly was less than optimistic, he said, was the prospect that America would inject "common sense" into its gun laws. Kelly said the shootings in Tucson had raised awareness of the need for better gun control, but that he did not expect change because "the gun lobby is very powerful."

He added, "I don't have great confidence or faith that Congress is going to take them on.... I think we've seen reluctance on both sides of the aisle to address the gun issue."

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