Commissioner Ray Kelly: Irish America Hall of Fame
By Kristin Romano, Contributor
April / May 2012
Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, New York’s top cop, is inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame
An ex-marine, former beat cop and the only person ever to serve two, non-consecutive terms as New York City Police Commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly has dedicated his life to serving his country and his city.
Born on September 4, 1941 in New York City, Kelly is the youngest of the five children of James Francis Kelly and Elizabeth O’Brien, both first-generation Irish Americans. His father was a milkman and his mother worked as a coat check girl at Macy’s. Kelly grew up on 91st Street and Columbus Avenue before his family moved to Sunnyside, Queens.
After graduating from Archbishop Malloy High School in 1959, Kelly went on to Manhattan College. During this time he was also a member of the inaugural class of the New York City Police Cadet Corps. He graduated from Manhattan in 1963 with a B.B.A. and joined the New York City Police Department. Shortly thereafter he accepted a commission to the United States Marine Corps Officer Program. He served on active military duty for three years including a combat tour in Vietnam. He returned to the Police Department in 1966 and entered the New York City Police Academy, graduating with the highest combined average for academics, physical achievement and marksmanship.
As the first member of his family to join the police department, Commissioner Kelly had no one to open doors for him. He relied on his own abilities and took advantage of department scholarship programs to advance his career. While working as a uniformed officer and rising through the ranks, he earned a law degree from St. John’s University, a master of laws from New York University School of Law, and a master of public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Working under Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward in the 1980s, Commissioner Kelly was assigned to some of the city’s most troubled precincts and tasked with improving them. Based on his success in these and other challenging assignments, Kelly became a close advisor to Commissioner Ward, who gave him ever increasing responsibilities..
In 1990, Police Commissioner Lee Brown selected Kelly to serve as first deputy commissioner, his second in command. Upon Brown’s departure in October 1992, Mayor David Dinkins appointed Kelly to take his place. Kelly had served in 25 different commands before becoming Police Commissioner. One of the first tasks he undertook was the expansion of minority recruitment in the NYPD. He also reduced felony crimes by 50,000 during his first year in office. In addition, Kelly launched the first major quality of life offensive against the notorious “squeegee men” who were plaguing city motorists at the time.
In January 1994, following the change in mayoral administrations, Kelly retired from the NYPD. Ten months later, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton to serve as Director of the International Police Monitors in Haiti. In March 1995, upon his return to the U.S., he retired as a Colonel from the Marine Corps Reserves after thirty years of service.
Kelly was then appointed Under Secretary for Enforcement at the U.S. Treasury Department, where he supervised the Department’s enforcement bureaus including the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. In 1998, Kelly was appointed Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, where he managed the agency’s 20,000 employees and $20 billion in annual revenue.
In 2000, he joined Bear Stearns and Co., Inc. as Senior Managing Director of Global Corporate Security. He was in his office in midtown on September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was attacked. A longtime resident of Battery Park, Commissioner Kelly was motivated by the events of that day to return to public service. He received that opportunity when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg swore him in as New York City Police Commissioner in January 2002.
It was clear from the start that his second tenure would be very different. The NYPD found itself on the frontlines of the global fight against terrorism. In response, Commissioner Kelly created the first counterterrorism bureau of any municipal police department in the country. He also established a new global intelligence program and stationed New York City detectives in eleven foreign cities. Despite having 6000 fewer officers and dedicating extensive resources to preventing another terrorist attack, the NYPD has driven crime down by 34% from 2001 levels.
Commissioner Kelly has been supported at every stage of his extraordinary career by his devoted wife, Veronica, who he met on Long Island one summer when he was a young lifeguard. Together they raised two sons, James and Greg. Ten years after returning to the role of commissioner, Kelly is still doing what he set out to do back in 1963: serving and protecting New York.