THE BLOG
07/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Law Enforcement Steel Cage Match: Ray Kelly Vs. Bill Bratton

In modern America's longest undeclared law enforcement feud, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton has recently one-upped NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Earlier this month, Bratton made the list of those receiving the honorary title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, which is but a step below knighthood.

Britain's Consul-General in Los Angeles Bob Peirce cited Bratton's contributions "from counter-terrorism to crime reduction," adding that Bratton "has transformed policing in New York, in Los Angeles and in cities across American that have adopted his ideas."

He also called Bratton "the outstanding police chief in the United States and, frankly, the world."

[Peirce's enthusiasm nearly equals that of Bratton's former attorney and literary agent Ed Hayes, who while negotiating Bratton' six-figure book advance for his autobiography referred to him as "the greatest law enforcement figure of the century."]

Equally significant in the one-upsmanship department, Bratton is to be honored at a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington on Sept. 11, a day on which he played no discernable role but one on which Kelly has based his legacy.

Now if you didn't know of the Bratton/Kelly rivalry [and there's little no reason you would as the mainstream media has never reported it], you might dismiss such subtleties.

But Bratton and Kelly have been duking it out for nearly two decades - ever since the early 1990s when Bratton ran the Transit Police and Kelly ran the NYPD under Mayor David Dinkins.

Contrary to Hollywood's image of law enforcement titans as solid and unflappable, these two resemble high-strung thoroughbreds. Merely an ill-placed word or gesture can spook them. Praise for one can be interpreted, whether real or imagined, as a slight to the other.

When newly elected Mayor Rudy Giuliani fired Kelly in 1994 and replaced him with Bratton, Kelly never forgave either of them. He never forgave Giuliani for firing him. He never forgave Bratton for replacing him.

Bratton then stoked Kelly's anger by criticizing the NYPD under Kelly as "basically dysfunctional." He also disparaged Kelly's signature policy, known as "Community Policing," which Bratton's aides described as "social work."

Bratton further irritated Kelly by taking credit for ridding the city of the ubiquitous "squegeemen," omitting the fact that Kelly had begun removing them months before.

Perhaps most upsetting to Kelly was that Bratton took credit for the sharp drop in crime, in particular homicides, which began in 1994, Bratton's first year as commissioner. Although Kelly pointed out that homicides began falling [albeit in smaller numbers] while he headed the NYPD between 1992 and 93, no one listened.

Bratton lasted barely two years at Police Plaza. Giuliani fired him in early 1996, three months after his mug --not Rudy's -- appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

Kelly, meanwhile, joined President Bill Clinton's administration, serving as Under Secretary of the Treasury and Commissioner of Customs, waiting for the right moment to return.

That moment arrived in 2001 when political neophyte Michael Bloomberg ran for mayor and Kelly endorsed him. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bloomberg propagated the fiction that Kelly didn't want to return to the NYPD and would try to persuade police commissioner Bernard Kerik to remain.

[Although he served only 16 months as police commissioner, Kerik - who five years later pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the Bronx and is currently under federal indictment for fraud and tax evasion -- was also awarded the title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.]

Fortunately for Bloomberg, he reappointed Kelly, not Kerik. Kelly became the only man in city history to serve as police commissioner twice.

Adopting Bratton's ideas -- specifically, command accountability - Kelly reduced crime even further. His crime reduction proved so impressive [and Kelly proved an equally impressive propagandist] that on Nov. 29, 2007, the Times, in a front-page article, rewrote the city's crime-reduction history exactly the way Kelly wanted it.

"Homicides began falling in the early 1990s when Raymond W. Kelly first served as police commissioner," the story said, "and plummeted further under subsequent commissioners." Nowhere in the article was Bratton mentioned.

Kelly also braced the city for another terrorist attack. He hired an ex-CIA top gun, revamped the department's Intelligence Division, began a Counter-Terrorism Bureau and stationed NYPD detectives overseas as rivals to the FBI.

Sometimes, though, his big mouth got him into trouble. In 2004, following the arrest of a radical Muslim cleric in London, Kelly singled out for praise an NYPD detective on the Joint [NYPD-FBI] Terrorist Task Force, which had arrested the cleric.

The FBI's New York Bureau Chief Pasquale D'Amuro charged that Kelly's identification of the detective had upset investigators from New Scotland Yard, prompting a call from John Bunn, commander of the Anti-Terrorist Branch, who voiced concerns about what Kelly had told the media.

Following the 2005 London train bombings that killed 52 people and injured 700, Kelly disclosed supposedly confidential information about the bombings. American law enforcement figures grumbled that his disclosures angered the British Metropolitan Police.

Meanwhile in 2001, Bratton became Chief of the LAPD. When he came through New York, Kelly refused to take his calls.

Kelly even snubbed him when it came to fighting terrorism. In 2006 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, the NYPD and the Manhattan Institute, a group of right-wing intellectuals, co-sponsored an anti-terrorism conference at the Roosevelt Hotel. When Kelly learned that Bratton planned to participate, he cancelled the NYPD's sponsorship. On the day of the conference, he held a rival conference at Police Plaza.

Fast forward to June 4, 2009, where Peirce, Britain's Consul-General in Los Angeles, announced Bratton's CBE award. A consulate spokesperson said that Bratton received the award "in part due to his work with Bob and with our consulate."

O.K., so what about Kelly, who has served as NYPD commissioner for eight years, one of the longest tenures in history? A spokesperson at the British Consulate in New York said, "We only comment on honors that have been awarded by the Queen," adding, "The important fact is that the consulate and the UK's Metropolitan Police have an excellent working relationship with the New York Police Department."

But don't weep for Kelly. He still has France. In 2006, he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, which was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. Kelly received his award at a ceremony presided over by France's president Nicolas Sarkozy.

To read more from Len Levitt, visit NYPD Confidential.