Bad Cops, Good Cop

updated 10/31/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

CRUISING THROUGH A NEIGHBORHOOD on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Raymond Kelly suddenly asks his driver to pull up at a rundown gym called Centre Sportif. Kelly, togged out in parachute-style pants and a blue polo shirt that barely contains his bulging biceps, goes inside to ask the club manager if he has any used weights for sale. Alas, there are none. But Kelly, 53, a dedicated lifter for more than 30 years, is undeterred. "We can make stuff up," he says nonchalantly, climbing back in the Jeep Cherokee. "All you have to do is get a bar and put some cement on it."

As head of the newly created International Police Monitors in Haiti, Kelly is going to need all his talent for making stuff up in the months ahead. The former New York City police commissioner is the Clinton Administration's point man for whipping the unsavory Haitian police force into shape now that the country's military rulers have stepped down and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has returned to power. It is a task that Kelly himself describes as "daunting," which is surely an understatement. Hated by much of the populace, the old police force, including the plainclothes auxiliaries known as attaches, was little more than a government goon squad responsible for a sickening array of human-rights abuses, including torture, rape and murder. Still, Kelly is hopeful that weeding out the worst offenders will yield results. "I think there's a real chance to break this cycle of violence," he says.

To assist him, Kelly has some 500 International Police Monitors (IPMs), mostly former law-enforcement officers and military personnel sent by countries including the U.S., Argentina and Jordan. Officially the IPMs, who carry sidearms, are not supposed to do any policing themselves; their mission is to keep an eye on Haitian cops for human-rights violations and to instruct them in proper police work. But because so many Haitian police have fled their jobs for fear of retribution under the Aristide government, the IPMs, who may eventually number 1,000, have been largely reduced to walking beats with the few who remain to shield them from the vengeful citizenry. "I think people see us and feel a sense of liberation," says Kelly. "I hope they, and the Haitian police, feel they're learning something."

Kelly's welcome passion for strict discipline and excellence has been the hallmark of his career. One of five children of a blue-collar family—his father, James, was variously a milkman, a shipyard worker and a clerk; his mother, Virginia, a dressing-room checker at Macy's—Kelly grew up in the less trendy precincts of Manhattan and Queens. He got his undergraduate degree from Manhattan College while at the same time attending the New York City Police Academy, where he graduated first in his class of 1,800.

Before plunging into police work, though, he volunteered for the Marine Corps, serving one tour of duty in Vietnam as a lieutenant in an artillery battery. Leaving active duty in 1965, he rose swiftly through the ranks of the NYPD, along the way adding a law degree from St. John's University, a graduate law degree from New York University and a master's in public administration from Harvard. When then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins named him police commissioner in October 1992, the appointment was widely hailed inside and outside the department. "He's the sort of guy that when he walks into a room, even in civilian clothes, you know who's in charge," says Tom Reppetto, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, a privately funded police-watchdog group.

Still, Kelly earned a reputation for being anything but a steely bureaucrat. Known for his quick wit, he is also an accomplished amateur chef. "Ray's a great cook," says his wife of 30 years, Veronica, 50, who sells medical equipment. (The couple have two sons, James, 28, a software entrepreneur, and Gregory, 25, who is training to be a Marine pilot.) "He makes a wonderful squid in red sauce." Even so, Kelly is no fussy gourmet; he admits to loving Meals, Ready-to-Eat and creamed beef, which are staples of the forces in Haiti. "The best," he says. "Can't get it anywhere in the real world."

By all accounts, Kelly's finest hour as commissioner came during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. With Mayor Dinkins away on a trip, Kelly's calm professionalism helped reassure a nervous city. "Kelly took over the show with a kind of the-Marines-have-landed demeanor, which won him a lot of points," says Reppetto. Nonetheless, when the new mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, took office this year, he replaced Kelly with Boston Police Commissioner William Bratton, in part because Bratton, as an outsider, seemed more likely to give the department a needed shake-up.

Kelly insists he has "no regrets" at being replaced. Last year he signed on as president of Investigative Group Inc., a top-drawer Washington-based security firm. While Kelly clearly relishes the challenge that the Haiti mission presents (he is due to stay at least four months), he realizes that real changes will take time. Thus he has already started scouting sites for a new Haitian national police academy. He has also ordered that the mustard-colored Haitian police stations be painted over and that new uniforms be made for Haitian cops—all to underscore the break from the past. For a people long cowed by their government, he is convinced, such symbolism can have substantive benefits. "The history of violence in this country is incredible," says Kelly. "But you gotta start someplace."

MEG GRANT in Port-au-Prince and MARIA SPEIDEL in New York City

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