DATE November 15, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Bernard Kerick discusses the September 11th attacks and
his work before he became police commissioner in New York City
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
As the commissioner of the New York City police, my guest, Bernard Kerik, is
watching over a city transformed by terrorism, a city that remains in a state
of high alert. He has overseen his department through the World Trade Center
attacks, the anthrax letters and the plane crash over Rockaway on Monday.
After 15 months as commissioner, Kerik announced last Friday that he intends
to leave his position New Year's Day. New York's next mayor, Michael
Bloomberg, has chosen Raymond Kelly to succeed Kerik.
Bernard Kerik has written a new memoir about his career as a crime fighter,
including a final chapter about September 11th. It's called "The Lost Son."
I spoke with him yesterday and asked how his department has changed since the
city has been in a state of high alert.
Commissioner BERNARD KERIK (New York City Police Department): Well, I think
they're doing now what is going to be done for some time, not only here in New
York City, but around the country. You know, if you stepped off of an
airplane at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome, and you saw some people
standing in that airport, cops with machine guns or heavy weapons or police
officers walking around with dogs, no one thinks anything of it, because
terrorism has been around for a long time in Italy.
If you did the same thing, it would be the same in Israel or some of the Arab
nations or other European countries. People are going to see those types of
things here in the United States now as well. We've increased security
around sensitive locations, around community centers, around government
buildings, bridges, tunnels. You know, we have a number of primary tunnels
and bridges that come in and out of Manhattan, or in and out of New York City.
Those are patrolled differently now. They're secured differently now. It's
going to be a learning process, but these are all the things, or at least some
of the things that we're doing now to make the city a lot safer.
GROSS: Is it the city police who are manning the checkpoints at the bridges
Commissioner KERIK: Well, it depends on where you are. Every bridge and
tunnel is sort of augmented by the city police but you have the Port Authority
police, which covers New York and New Jersey that would cover the Holland, the
Lincoln Tunnel, George Washington Bridge, the Verrazano Bridge. And the
internal bridges are covered by the Bridge and Tunnel Authority in New York
City augmented by New York City cops. So it's a variety of different
agencies, but all of those agencies are members of the Metropolitan
Counterterrorism Committee I established some weeks after the attack on the
Trade Center. And we constantly talk to each other and coordinate with each
other what our best policy should be to protect the people of the city.
GROSS: Do you feel like you have an adequate number of police to deal with
the daily crime of New York--the homicides, the drug crimes, the robberies,
Commissioner KERIK: Mm-hmm. As you know, New York City--the crime reduction
in New York City is historic. Last year, when I took over as police
commissioner, we had dropped crime in the city by about 57 percent. In the
last year, year and four months that I've been here, crime has been reduced
another 13 percent, and homicide is down 9 percent. We have 41,000 uniformed
members in the New York City Police Department, a total of 55,000 men and
women working in the PD. We have enough cops. Even with the enhanced
coverage, even with the highest alert, all of these things in line, we are
still reducing crime, and the city's the safest it's been probably since about
GROSS: New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik is my guest. He's
written a new memoir called "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice."
You added a final chapter to your book after the 11th, and it's about the 11th
and its aftermath. Where were you when the second tower was struck of the
World Trade Center and you realized this wasn't an accident, it was terrorism?
Commissioner KERIK: I had left my office right after the first tower was hit.
I arrived at the scene within a few minutes. And I was standing about two
blocks north of Tower One looking at the damage, calling for the deployment of
staff and troops. And I was standing at the corner of Vesey and West
Broadway, about a block and a half north of the tower, when the second tower
was hit. And it was hit sort of from the south side, so the explosion came
out on top of us. And, you know, looking up at the tower and watching the
explosion and looking at the debris, it took a good four, five, maybe 10
seconds before I realized this stuff was coming down on top of us and we had
to get out of the way before we were hit. In fact, one of my bodyguards was
struck in the back of the leg with a piece of the aircraft. And basically, I
was right there underneath the buildings.
GROSS: What were you afraid was going to happen next?
Commissioner KERIK: At that point, I didn't know. You know, you're the
police commissioner of the largest city in this country. We have--you know,
really, it's about the eighth or ninth largest army in the world; 55,000
people. But in that circumstance, I didn't know how many planes there were.
I didn't know what their targets were. I was concerned about evacuating City
Hall, Police Plaza, headquarters, the United Nations, the Empire State
Building. At that point, within seconds after that second explosion, I
realized we were under attack. I also had a concern to shut down the
airspace. And, you know, looking back, it's a little humorous, because I
turned and yelled at one of my staff, I said, `Close down the airspace and get
some air support.' And, you know, it's like, is there a number? You know,
who do you call to do that?
GROSS: Yeah, good question. Right.
Commissioner KERIK: Yeah. No...
GROSS: Who did you call?
Commissioner KERIK: You know, basically, what we had done is we contacted my
Special Operations Division and contacted aviation. We have nine helicopters
in our aviation unit. They contacted the FAA and the airports, closed down
the airports immediately and then shut down the airspace and called for
military enforcement. And the F-16s were there within several minutes.
GROSS: Where were you when the towers collapsed?
Commissioner KERIK: The mayor and I--after the second tower was hit, the
mayor arrived within three or four minutes in the spot where I was. And we
walked around to the West Side highway and down two of the towers on the west
side to look at the damage and access the situation. And we met with some
people, the first deputy commissioner from the fire department and the chief
of department from the fire department. And one of my cops, a Sergeant
Cogland, we talked to them for about 5 or 10 minutes, and we left. We went
back to 75 Barclay Street, which is about three blocks north of the towers to
use that as a temporary headquarters. And--I don't know--probably 10 to 15
minutes after we got inside that building, Tower Two came down, and it
basically came down all around us, and we had to evacuate that building.
GROSS: Did you ever feel like your life was in jeopardy?
Commissioner KERIK: Well, I guess there were three or four times that day;
you know, when the second tower was hit, the explosion was enormous. I was
right under the building. We went down to West Side highway. The three
people I just mentioned, you know, we talked to them for about 5 or 10 minutes
and left them. They later died where they were when the towers came down.
Had we stayed there, we would have been right in the middle of that. At 75
Barclay, when we were in that building and the towers came down, I thought for
a moment there--there was a time that I thought we were going to basically
suffocate from the smoke and the debris and the dust. You couldn't see. You
couldn't breathe. It was pretty dangerous at the time, but we worked our way
out of it.
GROSS: You have so much to think about in a situation like that--protecting
the safety of everyone in New York and protecting your safety and protecting
the mayor, who was with you. So what are the priorities in a situation like
Commissioner KERIK: Well, the first thing to do was to get the mayor out of
there and get to a secure site and to a command center, a command posting.
And that was one of our primary issues. The other thing is you have to get to
the public in some way to let them know what's going on and not to panic and
not to create chaos. And the mayor, you know, one thing the mayor's best
at--the best thing he's known for is crisis management, you know, and in this
circumstance, he was really responding and acting at his peak. You know, he
gathered a group of media, a group of reporters, and basically went on the air
to tell people, you know, `Stay in your houses. Keep the kids in school.
Don't come downtown. Stay out of Manhattan.' You know, `It's going to be
OK.' And we wanted to get that message out just as quickly as possible.
GROSS: My guest is New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. His new
memoir is called "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: (Technical difficulties) New York City Police Commissioner Bernard
Kerik. (Technical difficulties) memoir.
The Command Center that you have at the Office of Emergency Management was in
7 World Trade Center, right next to the towers.
Commissioner KERIK: Right.
GROSS: You decided not to use it because it was so close to the towers. That
was a good decision, because the building collapsed later that day.
Commissioner KERIK: Right.
GROSS: But were there things you could have done had you been able to use
that Command Center that you couldn't do because you couldn't have access to
Commissioner KERIK: Well, yeah, if that Command Center would have stayed
intact and we could have used that as our base, I think, if anything, our
overall response capabilities would have just been a little quicker. Overall,
I think we did extremely well, under the circumstances, one, making the
decision not to use the Command Center. That was the best decision, because,
as you said, it was basically across the street from Tower One. When tower
two came down, there was an enormous amount of debris in the area, but tower
one fell right on top of 7 World Trade. That was a 43-story building and it
collapsed, it just fell into itself. So not using it was the best thing we
did. And then we set up a temporary command post in the Police Academy, and
we used that for about a day or two until we moved on to a new Command Center
at the pier.
GROSS: How many police did you lose on the 11th?
Commissioner KERIK: I lost 23 New York City police officers. There were 37
Port Authority police officers and 343 firefighters.
GROSS: About a couple of weeks ago, the number of firefighters on the rescue
mission was cut back, and Mayor Giuliani said that firefighters and police
would no longer be allowed to stand directly on the rubble piles, that they
Commissioner KERIK: Right.
GROSS: ...be stationed close by so that if body parts were found, the
officers and the firefighters could move in and collect them.
Commissioner KERIK: Right.
GROSS: The firefighters protested that with a demonstration. They wanted to
make sure that the bodies of firefighters who died in the attack weren't
shipped to the landfill with the rest of the rubble.
Commissioner KERIK: Right.
GROSS: Did you understand why they were so angry?
Commissioner KERIK: Yes, in a way, I understand why they're angry. This is
an extremely emotionally filled time. You know, with all that they've been
through and all that has happened here, a lot of this is not about reality;
it's about a perception and in some sense miscommunication. Because
firefighters, ones that were really talking the loudest, didn't understand
what the operational needs were, nor what our intention was. I made this
decision in conjunction with the fire commissioner and the mayor, and it's a
decision that we made so that I, as the police commissioner, don't have to
call a woman or a husband or a wife and say that we've lost another member of
our department. As this recovery mission grows, and as we sort of force our
way into the bigger pieces of rubble and the debris, there's a lot more
equipment down there now than there was in the past, and the firemen and the
cops, you know, they sort of push their way into the middle of the hole, and
they're standing under and all around this heavy equipment--bulldozers and
cranes and all these things that could really kill somebody if you're standing
in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So what we determined was pull the officers back away from the site, put them
in a location close to the site, but also have spotters out there. Have
police officers, New York City Port Authority and New York City firemen to
watch the debris removal. If they see something, stop construction, call in
the team that's out there and go in and look and determine what it is and
should it be removed. And I think people didn't understand what we were
trying to do.
GROSS: You know, getting back to this fear that some of the firefighters
would actually end up in the landfill, it reminds me of something you write in
your memoir. You wrote that when you were working as a cop, you know, on the
beat, your biggest fear was that you would die in one of those filthy black
and white-tiled floors of some rat-infested tenement. `The image so disturbed
me that each time I entered a building I would tell my partner, "If anything
happens, just don't leave me there alone."'
Commissioner KERIK: Right.
GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about the fear of dying in bad places that
police and firefighters have?
Commissioner KERIK: Well, I think it depends on--you know, firemen, that fear
is primarily focused around, you know, what they do on a daily basis, and a
lot of their work, although it's not routine, you know, it's the same thing.
It's going into buildings, it's going into tenement buildings and, you know,
the blaze and the smoke. And a fireman doesn't necessarily have to die as a
result of being burned, of smoke inhalation, losing his tank, losing oxygen.
And these are things that are their concerns--that they have concerns with.
You know, in the Police Department, you know, you walk up to a car for running
a red light and you anticipate that you're going to issue a summons and that
the car is going to go about his business. What you may not know is the
person sitting behind the wheel may have just robbed a bank and may be wanted
for a murder and may be wanted on some warrant, or whatever the case may be.
And you walk up to that car and you wind up getting shot. You go into an
apartment building as a narcotics undercover--when I was an undercover, I
worked in Spanish Harlem and Washington Heights, some of the most dangerous
areas, zones in this city at a peak time in this city when crime was at its
highest, and the crack epidemic had basically overrun the city. You know, I
was constantly concerned with winding up knocking on a door--when you knock on
these doors, you don't know who's on the other side. You don't know how many
people are in there. You don't know the weapons they have. Then you knock on
that door and just pray you can go through your deal, do your buy and get out
of the building safely. These are always concerns that you have when you're
doing this type of work.
GROSS: Well, getting back to the firefighter protest, there was a scuffle
between the protesting firefighters and the police. Five police officers were
punched by protesting firefighters. What was your reaction, as police
commissioner, to watching the police and firefighters fighting with each other
after having been so united in the rescue and the cleanup? And after, you
know--well, I mean, the police and firefighters had become heroes, and
watching them fight with each other, however briefly, what did that do to you?
Commissioner KERIK: Right. Well, it's disturbing, and really, it was
unnecessary. We had agreed for the firefighters to demonstrate and protest in
a certain location. You know, you have people in the crowd that will soup up
the others, and basically that's what happened. You know, I don't mind them
protesting. I don't mind them demonstrating. I don't mind them getting loud.
But if we have a restricted zone, you have to stay within that zone. And the
one thing that I cannot tolerate, and I won't tolerate, is people picking up
the barricades, flipping them on top of the cops, or punching out police
officers. If you do that, you're going to get arrested. There were a number
of arrests for assault and several arrests for trespassing. Since that time,
I've agreed, in conjunction with the district attorney, to drop the
trespassing charges. Because I do understand the emotions behind this. I do
understand the heartache and some of the personal feelings. I will not drop
the charges on assaults, and people that hit cops are going to be held
accountable for their actions.
GROSS: In the late '70s and early '80s, you did some security work in Saudi
Arabia, where law enforcement included cutting off the hands of thieves,
beheadings for murder and rape and floggings for less severe crimes. You
actually observed some of this, some of the beheadings and the sawing off of
hands. What was your reaction to that as law enforcement practices?
Commissioner KERIK: Well, I mean, your initial reaction--the first time you
see this--when you see somebody beheaded the first time, your mind really has
a hard time comprehending what you just saw. It's like you almost can't
believe it. You know, it's a very sort of uncivilized way to deal with
capital punishment. But, you know, there are theories out there about capital
punishment and whether it deters crime. Saudi Arabia's capital crime--murder,
rape--is probably some of the lowest in the world. Does public executions and
floggings and dismemberments, does that have a lot to with it? I don't know.
I would probably say so, but it's a pretty uncivilized way to deal with
GROSS: So did you accept these executions and dismemberments as cultural
difference, or did you see it as wrong?
Commissioner KERIK: Well, I think--you know, I don't agree with it, I will
say that. And I think it is a cultural issue. You know, this is their
religion, and people have to understand that not only in Saudi Arabia, but a
number of the Arab nations where the Muslim religion is the primary religion,
it is also the law. In Saudi Arabia, there is no different between religion
and criminal law. The law is the Koran, the Muslim bible, so to speak, and
that's what they live by. It is a primary cultural change from anything that
we see here in this country, or anywhere else, for that matter.
GROSS: Were there any security measures that you had to enact while you were
in Saudi Arabia that you saw as oppressive?
Commissioner KERIK: None. I usually--the primary part of my job was acting
as a liaison between the Saudi authorities and the--my second term there, for
example, I was the acting chief of investigations for the royal family's
hospital. And basically, I conducted investigations, criminal and otherwise,
for hospital-related events, crimes, if you will. Also, the liaison, with
regard to the Saudi authorities and the hospital, we weren't law enforcement
officers; we were basically security agents, and the law enforcement
capability and protocols were done by the police themselves. So we didn't
have to enforce the laws. We were basically there as an investigative body
for the authorities.
GROSS: Bernard Kerik is the commissioner of the New York City police. His
new memoir is called "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice." I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with New York City Police
Commissioner Bernard Kerik. We'll talk about his early career, we'll hear
about his life as a beat cop on Times Square and as an undercover detective
posing as a junkie.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: When you were a cop in New York, you worked on Times Square for a
while, and one of the things you had to deal with was prostitutes. Part of
what you learned when you were researching your memoir was that your mother
was actually a prostitute when you were young. She died when you were young
of a cerebral hemorrhage. Foul play was suspected, as it turns out. You
suspect she was probably beaten. How does it make you feel about prostitutes,
knowing that your mother was one?
Com. KERIK: Well, I think, you know--and I've always, for years--you know,
I've been in this business for 26 years, and the one thing you learned about
prostitution and women that are involved in prostitution, normally--I'd say 95
percent of the time--they come from tragic childhoods, from horrible
upbringings. In my mother's case, the research that I did resulted in me
finding that she had a very torturous and abusive childhood. There wasn't
really parenting in her life. There wasn't really love in her life. And
perhaps that had a lot to do with what she became, who she was, why she was
the way she was. And I think it's like that in, you know, 90 to 95 percent of
the women out there that engage in prostitution, and it's a horrible, horrible
You know, sometimes, with some guidance or counseling or just assistance,
people could change their lives, and in this case, it's something that my
mother could have used, and it just never happened.
GROSS: Would it have been more difficult for you to work a beat in which you
had to arrest a lot of prostitutes, had you known at the time that your mother
had been in the trade?
Com. KERIK: No, not really. You know, in my opinion, you can't--whether it's
my mother or whether it's a friend or whether it's someone else and they're
violating the law, if they violate the law, they're going to be arrested. You
know, you just kind of feel sorry for people like that. You try to give them
a warning and, you know, get them out of the area. If they refuse to leave,
then you're there to do a job. And, you know, prostitution--you know, people
say it's a victimless crime and it's a harmless crime, but it breeds other
things. It breeds things like robberies and assaults and robberies and
addiction, and those are things that have to be dealt with. So whether it was
my mother or anyone else close to me, I would have still been able to do my
GROSS: You, from your memoirs, seemed like you were a pretty rowdy kid, and
you had your trouble with the law when you were growing up. The cops you knew
were because you were in trouble with the cops.
Com. KERIK: Usually, yeah.
GROSS: So why did you want to be a cop yourself?
Com. KERIK: You know, I think primarily because these were people I looked up
to. You know, I wasn't a violent criminal; you know, I didn't do anything
violent. When I was a kid, I would steal from the local drugstore, and I'd
take money from my mother. And, you know, I did sort of kid stuff. But, you
know, the people that kept me in line and the people that would, you know,
keep me on the right track, so to speak, were the local cops that walked the
beat in front of my house that I know and I knew from the local neighborhood,
some of which are still out there, I might add. And, you know, it's those
people that sort of help you get along when you're a kid. And I admired them.
I saw them as role models, and I guess that's when my quest began to become a
cop. And, ultimately, it worked out.
GROSS: Did you meet a lot of kids who reminded you of yourself when you
became a cop?
Com. KERIK: Yes, you know, and I often tell people that police officers that
come from, perhaps not the same upbringing that I did, but police officers
that they themselves, when they were kids, were rowdy and robust and, you
know, ornery if you will--those kids usually make the best cops because they
have understanding, they have knowledge, they have common sense. And they
know that not every kid that does something wrong is a criminal. You don't
have to charge and arrest a kid and have a criminal record holding over them
or held over them for something they've done when they've made a mistake, you
know. You have to have some common sense, and you have to have compassion
And, you know, I think it makes you a better cop, it makes you a better police
officer when you're able to know and understand that environment and know a
kid, you know, that's done wrong, whether it was intentional, whether it was
violent, whether they should be charged with a crime. Whether you're going to
ruin their life with a criminal record or not, these are things cops have to
take into consideration when you're enforcing the law, when you're working in
the street. And I think a cop that grew up like I did, I think they have much
better judgment on what to do and what not to do to help someone, and that's
what it should be all about: helping.
GROSS: So you're saying you have to use intuition a lot?
Com. KERIK: You have to use intuition, you have to use common sense. And you
should really think of the long-term outcome of what kids--you know, where do
you want these kids to go? What do you want them to be, you know? And
sometimes you also have to remember we are role models; police officers are
very distinct role models for children these days. And you want to make sure
that, you know, you give them the chance to follow those role models.
GROSS: Police are role models, but in some areas, particularly in some parts
of New York City, police have been really distrusted because of charges of
abuse, of shootings, beatings and so on. And I think that's been a particular
problem in inner-city areas of New York. Of course, since September 11th,
police are considered much more heroic. I think morale must be a lot higher.
Can you talk a little bit about the difference you've seen within the force
and within the public and their feelings about the force since the 11th?
Com. KERIK: Yeah. Well, there's a couple issues. The perceptions that you
talk about and that some people talk about, with regard to, you know, the
negativity of the cops--the abuse, the things of that nature--people have to
keep in mind--and this is one thing that I try to do when I go out and I talk
to the communities. Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, things like that--you know,
we've had one, two, probably four or five incidents in the last six years that
created an enormous amount of negativity in the New York City Police
Department, but we have millions of contacts between the police department and
the public a year, documented contacts, meaning arrests, summonses,
interactions, calls for 911, from 911. Six million, five hundred thousand
contacts a year, not to mention parades, demonstrations where people are
really incitive, antagonistic; sporting events.
Thirty to 50 million contacts a year, and the entire perception of the New
York City Police Department, from the media and the press, is based on five
incidents. It's not reality, and that's what we have to focus on when we talk
to the communities. What you see in that perception is not reality. What's
happened over the last several weeks, since September 11th, has been the
reverse in the media because every single thing that's been covered has been
about what happened on that day and the days to follow. There's been this
enormous amount of coverage of the heroism, the valor, the bravery, the
courage, all those things that have gone into the rescue efforts and the
recovery efforts and the investigative efforts of September 11th.
And because of this enormous coverage, people now see, basically, what reality
is because this is stuff that New York City police officers do every single
day. Every day they're getting shot at; they're rescuing people; they're
recovering and investigating, you know, different things in this city. They
don't really get the credit for all those things, all of those contacts, those
millions and millions of positive contacts. They don't get the credit like
they did on September the 11th. September 11th, they got the credit because
of the coverage. And I think it's really transformed this city, and it's also
transformed the rest of the country because people now have a better idea of
what it's all about.
And it's done something for the cops as well. The cops feel better about
themselves. They feel better about the support that they're getting from the
community. I think September 11th, although it's gone down as one of our
darkest days in this city's history and the country's history, it should also
go down as one of our best and finest moments because we rescued 20,000 to
25,000 people, and it's really demonstrated to the rest of the world what the
New York City Police Department's all about.
GROSS: We've been seeing you a lot on press conferences. There was a period
where you worked as an undercover cop or you were on the drug detail, so you
had to pose as a dealer or a user. And you got into some pretty tight spots
that way. We know what you look like now. What did you look like then, when
you were undercover?
Com. KERIK: Well, in 1990, when I became a detective, I was given the gold
shield. In September of 1990, I had hair down to the middle of my back; I
had hair down to the middle of my back.
GROSS: Where did it go?
Com. KERIK: I don't know. It's the stress of the job. I had hair down to
the middle of my back. I had six diamond earrings in my left ear, with a big
gold loop on the bottom. I had a big goatee. I looked sort of like Charles
Manson. And, you know, I was big and dirty. And I'd go in to do, you know,
say, heroin buys on 109th or 110th Street and Lexington Avenue, and I'd roll
around in a bus stop, you know, get grease all over me. I'd grab some dog
feces, rub it all over me and smell real good, and then I'd walk into these
buildings to buy. And, you know, between the dirt, the filth and the stench,
you know, they'd want to do you right away and sell to you to get you out of
the building. So that's what I had to do to be an undercover and to do my
job. And it's just a little different today.
GROSS: How did you live with the stench?
Com. KERIK: It's not easy. It's not easy, but it's--you know, you want to
get the job done; more than getting the job done, you kind of do it for your
own safety. You have to really pull yourself away from your identity, and
you've got to make sure that once you're inside that building, that people
don't make you for a cop or they don't believe you're a cop because if they
do, it becomes extremely dangerous. You know, you walk up into one of these
tenement buildings, you get inside an apartment, they close the door, they
dead bolt the door--three or four locks--and everybody inside that room or
inside that apartment has a gun. You have no gun, you have no shield, you
have no vest, you have no protection. So it's you vs. them. If they believe
you're a cop, you're dead. So the more you can do to fend them off and keep
them from knowing, the better off you are.
GROSS: Must have been glad to get off of that beat.
Com. KERIK: I hated that job. That was one of the worst. It is absolutely
one of the worst jobs in law enforcement and particularly New York City. It
is one of the worst jobs in New York City a cop could have. But, you know,
when people talk about God's work, in my opinion, that is God's work: taking
drugs off the streets of this city, the streets of this country. I believe
it's one of the most essential things we have to do. So, you know, as
dangerous as it may be and bad as it may be, it's a job that has to be done,
and the men and women of this city do it with great honor and great pride.
GROSS: Did you feel like you actually accomplished anything in that
Com. KERIK: You do. While being an undercover, no, you know, because
you--especially back then, when the court system--it just didn't seem to work
the way it should. You know, you'd go out and do a buy today on 106th Street
and Columbus Avenue, go back there three days later and run into the same guy
that sold to you three or four days before. You know, that tears you down, it
discourages you from going out there and really working hard.
Later on, when I was assigned to the DEA, I worked in much larger cases. I
oversaw one of the largest and most substantial drug investigations in US
history. Then, you really felt some sense of accomplishment because you knew,
you know, in one circumstance, maybe that we took 800 kilos of cocaine that
was coming from Costa Rica to go to New York. It never made it to New York.
Fourteen hundred kilos from Ecuador never made it to New York City. Eight
hundred kilos from Guatemala never made it to New York City. These were
things, when you did this, you really felt a sense of accomplishment.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bernard Kerik, New York City's
police commissioner and author of a new memoir called "The Lost Son: A Life
in Pursuit of Justice."
I found myself trying to imagine what your night was like on Halloween night.
This was a night when the nation was in a high alert because we were told
there might be an imminent terrorist attack. It was a day that the bridges
alert was issued in California. In New York, it was the night of a World
Series game. There's something big--I forget what--in Madison Square Garden.
Com. KERIK: Yeah.
GROSS: Plus, it was Halloween.
Com. KERIK: Yeah.
GROSS: And there's usually a big Halloween parade in Greenwich Village. I
don't know if that happened this year or not.
Com. KERIK: Yeah.
GROSS: Plus, kids are trick-or-treating all over. What was Halloween night
like for you?
Com. KERIK: It was like another night in New York City, you know. You've got
to remember, we do these things all the time. You know, today, for example,
we have the General Assembly at the UN. All week long, we have, you know,
many, many, many heads of state from all over the world in this city. You
know, we have parades, we have sporting events, the World Series. That night
was like any other night, except we had a heightened alert. So, you know,
there's increased coverage, there's additional staffing. You know, it's
just--but you've got to remember, we have 41,000 police officers in New York
City; it's sort of like a small army. And when you have events like that, you
deploy them in areas where they're needed the most and you hope for the best.
And they did a tremendous job. The night went off without a problem.
GROSS: You know, we were talking before about how there's a certain amount of
intuition that you use as a police officer. When you're working particularly
with a kid who might have committed a minor crime, you're trying to figure
out, `Is this person going to be a hardened criminal, or did they just kind of
make a mistake and there's no point in ruining their life by giving them a
criminal record?' As somebody who was kind of tough and rowdy as a kid, you
had an intuitive sense of that.
Now part of what you're working against is terrorists, and this is a mind set
that you don't understand from your childhood; you didn't live a life like the
lives of the terrorists...
Com. KERIK: Right.
GROSS: ...who are out to get us now. Is that an obstacle for you...
Com. KERIK: No, I think...
GROSS: ...because intuition isn't going to function the same way for you?
Com. KERIK: Intuition comes from knowledge, education. Intuition comes from
on-the-job training. That's where it comes from. Things like that build
intuition in a person, and that's what the agents and the cops and the people
that will now investigate terrorism and combat terrorism--that's what they've
got to do. They've got to reach out to the academia, experts on the Muslim
and extreme fanatical, religious people. They have to look at other countries
and what they're doing. They have to sort of educate themselves and gather
knowledge and collect intelligence. They have to do all this, starting from
this point on, to make sure that they can build up a sense of intuition and a
sense of gut feeling. And it will come, but this is all really new to this
country. It's not like some of the other countries that have had to deal with
terrorism over the years.
But we are very intuitive in this country. We are extremely capable of
adapting, and I think we'll do it and do it well. It's just going to take a
GROSS: Is there any federal legislation you would like to see passed that you
think would help the nation and would help urban police forces in this new age
Com. KERIK: Intelligence gathering. There's got to be a mechanism where the
federal government is not precluded from giving intelligence information that
they gather from anywhere in this world to the municipalities and state
governments that need that information to protect their cities. That's one of
my primary concerns.
GROSS: And who are you looking for to try to make that happen?
Com. KERIK: Well, there is a bill now that's being proposed by Senator
Schumer and Senator Clinton that is going to work on exactly that.
GROSS: You've announced that you're going to resign. Was it January 1st?
Com. KERIK: Yes.
GROSS: And the next police commissioner of New York will be Raymond Kelly,
who served under Mayor David Dinkins. Why have you decided to resign? You
first entered the job in August of 2000, so it hasn't been that long.
Com. KERIK: Hmm-mm. Well, when I took the job initially, I anticipated just
working for Mayor Giuliani and when Mayor Giuliani stepped down, I would leave
as well. I wasn't really concerned, I guess, at the time with working for
some of the other candidates, Mark Green or Fernando Ferrer. I didn't want to
work for them. I didn't agree with some of their policies, and, you know, I
knew them by reputation--very nice men, but I didn't agree with the policies,
their concerns. So I anticipated leaving. Then Mike Bloomberg got in the
race, and, you know, Mike Bloomberg is a good man. I think he's going to be a
good mayor, a good leader.
And I really considered whether I should or should not stay, but I have a
year-and-a-half-old daughter, who I really haven't seen in the last year and a
half because of this job. And, you know, she took her first few steps; I
missed that. We now have these miniature conversations. Every day or two she
comes up with new words and sentences. And, you know, these are things that
I'm missing. And in this job, it's not like you can carve out some time and
go home and just say, `I'm going to do this.' You know, my days start at 5,
5:30, 6 in the morning. They end at midnight, 1, 2 in the morning. And then
I go back to work. So she's sleeping when I get up and go to work, she's
sleeping when I get home. I just don't see her. I have a 16-year-old son
that I haven't seen in about eight years--well, since I've been working with
the mayor--and it's time to put some more emphasis on my family.
GROSS: Will you be relieved to no longer have the responsibility of
protecting New York City from terrorists?
Com. KERIK: Well, I don't know. I think I'm going to be confused. You know,
no pager going off at 3 in the morning, you know. I'm probably one of the
only people in New York City that can have a just absolutely normal
conversation at 3:30 in the morning, be dead asleep, answer the phone and go
into a 10-minute spurt of something going on in the city and, you know, go
back to sleep in about 10 seconds. You learn to do that. When that doesn't
happen, I don't know; maybe I'll just sit up at night and listen to your show
or--I don't know what I'll be doing. I have no idea.
GROSS: Commissioner Kerik, thank you very much for talking with us.
Com. KERIK: Thank you.
GROSS: And I wish you good luck and be safe.
Com. KERIK: Thank you.
GROSS: Bernard Kerik is the commissioner of the New York City Police. His
new memoir is called "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice." Kerik
will step down from his position January 1st.
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