PLAYBOY: How safe is New York City today from another attack?
KELLY: New York is safer than it has been—and it’s getting safer. But it’s never safe. As the financial and communications capital of the world, this is where terrorists want to make a statement, where they get the most bang for the buck.
PLAYBOY: Let’s talk about surveillance cameras.
KELLY: We now have about 7,000 cameras citywide—4,000 of them positioned in lower Manhattan. Some are “smart” cameras, capable of video analytics. Let’s say you want to track a suspect who was wearing a yellow shirt at two P.M. three weeks ago. The cameras are color, shape and movement-sensitive, so we can feed that information into a computer and the picture comes up.
PLAYBOY: Ever since the passage of the Patriot Act, privacy advocates have been concerned about spying on law-abiding citizens.
KELLY: These privacy advocates are hard to find. A Quinnipiac University poll taken last spring found that more than 80 percent of New Yorkers want more cameras in public areas.
PLAYBOY: In fact, you’ve said the people who complain about it are a “relatively small number of folks, because the genie is out of the bottle.” What did you mean?
KELLY: If you go into any department store these days, your picture is probably taken 30 times. In London there are 500,000 cameras in public spaces. You have no expectation of privacy in public spaces.
PLAYBOY: But you can understand why people would be appalled that their phone conversations are being examined.
KELLY: They’re not being examined. They’re being warehoused. The potential to get into the calls requires going to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get authority to look into them. I think Edward Snowden was talking about violations of that requirement, something the NSA has to address.
PLAYBOY: After Snowden revealed top-secret mass surveillance programs in the U.S., why did you criticize the NSA’s secrecy over phone-records collection?
KELLY: I don’t think it should ever have been made secret. I think the existence of the program should have been made known, because people in this post-9/11 world would generally accept the fact that calls are being gathered and, as I said, put to the side. If they had been assured calls were accessible only as a result of judicial direction, they would be less concerned.
PLAYBOY: Do you think Snowden is a traitor or a patriot?
KELLY: He’s a traitor and a violator of the law. He’s not a whistle-blower, because he didn’t go to Congress or to any of his bosses. He did this on his own and hurt, some say irreparably, the defenses of this country. And you can’t operate a government like that. You need some confidentiality to operate in today’s world.
PLAYBOY: But do you see the danger of all this surveillance turning us into an Orwellian culture, a police state where every-thing is being monitored?
KELLY: Well, I think it’s something that should have limits.
PLAYBOY: Like what?
KELLY: Do I think we should have cameras on every block? No. It would help us in terms of investigations, but I understand the sensitivity to doing it.
PLAYBOY: On the subject of surveillance, you faced criticism in 2011 when the Associated Press began a Pulitzer Prize–winning series about the NYPD’s expansive spy program that used closed-circuit cameras and undercover agents to keep close tabs on mosques. What’s the deal with these so-called mosque crawlers?
KELLY: I never heard that expression.
PLAYBOY: You’ve never heard it?
KELLY: Nobody ever used it inside the police department. Those AP writers received a lot of leaks from disgruntled people in the NYPD who had retired or didn’t get promoted. The overarching sin we’re guilty of is having the nerve to move into the counterterrorism area that the federal government wanted to have a monopoly on, irrespective of the fact that we had almost 3,000 people killed here, that we’ve had 16 plots against us. Our temerity in trying to better protect New Yorkers was greatly resisted by some in the federal government.
PLAYBOY: Do you see anything wrong with undercover agents infiltrating religious houses of worship?
KELLY: We don’t investigate mosques, but we do follow leads into the mosques. We can’t have sanctuaries. We can’t say that because you are Muslim or Catholic or Buddhist or Jewish you have a sanctuary from being investigated. The AP said we categorized mosques as terrorist enterprises. That is simply not the case. We don’t investigate buildings. We investigate people.
PLAYBOY: You understand why a law-abiding Muslim praying in a mosque would be offended by the presence of undercover agents.
KELLY: Yes, we understand that, sure. We just met with our Muslim advisory committee and went through a lot of these issues. But this is the world in which we live. We are at risk from terrorism. We have to do what we reasonably can to protect the city, and we cannot rely on the federal government alone to protect us.
PLAYBOY: With all this doom and gloom, when you’re stressed out or feeling down, what do you do?
KELLY: I make martinis. [Laughs] No, I exercise, lift weights, do cardio. That helps.
PLAYBOY: The worse the news, the more weights on the bar?
KELLY: Right. More pain, more pain.
PLAYBOY: Are you religious at all?
PLAYBOY: So you don’t pray or——
KELLY: Only if my life is on the line. There are no atheists in a foxhole, you know.
PLAYBOY: Other decompression techniques?
KELLY: I read a lot, mostly nonfiction political books. Just finished This Town, about Washington, and Colin Powell’s It Worked for Me. I watch a limited amount of TV—The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, PBS News-Hour. And I’ll watch Homeland.
PLAYBOY: What about the perks of being police commissioner, like having your own helicopter?
KELLY: No. We have helicopters here, but they’re not my own, and I use them infrequently. If there’s an emergency and I’m out of the city, I have to get back quickly via helicopter, but it doesn’t happen much.
PLAYBOY: So what are the perks?
KELLY: You’re invited to certain social events and you represent the city. That comes with the territory.
PLAYBOY: Or just the fun of going to J. Lo’s birthday party.
KELLY: If you’re invited. I never invite myself, never.
PLAYBOY: Is there anyone you haven’t met but would like to?
KELLY: Lady Gaga. No, I’m kidding. Nelson Mandela. He was in New York in 1990. I was supposed to meet him at Gracie Mansion but just missed him. It was a disappointment. I was intrigued by someone who had spent 27 years in jail, then came back to lead a country. And with all that adversity, he was not bitter.
PLAYBOY: Others who impressed you?