Bernard Bailey Kerik was the police commissioner of the City of New York on September 11, 2001. He was a longtime political ally of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. His actions at the World Trade Center on September 11 elevated him, along with Giuliani, to the national limelight.
Kerik had an unusual background. He was born on September 4, 1955, in Paterson, New Jersey. His mother was a prostitute, and his father deserted him when he was only two years old. He was raised by a violent stepfather with a criminal record. He had trouble in school, often getting into fights. Kerik finally dropped out of high school. He later earned a GED and a mail-order bachelor's degree from Empire State College. In his autobiography Kerik states that his violent tendencies were leading to a life of crime until he joined the U. S. Army. Kerik became a military policeman, serving in Korea and then with the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His passion was martial arts, and he earned a black belt at age 18. After leaving the army, he worked at security assignments for the Saudi royal family between 1982 and 1984. Returning to the United States, Kerik joined the Passaic County Sheriff's Office, where he held a number of jobs.
Kerik's career took off when he took a job with the New York City Police Department (NYPD). His first assignment was working undercover for the anticrime and narcotics units in Harlem, Spanish Harlem, and Washington Heights. His successes led to his selection for the U. S. Justice Department's New York Drug Enforcement Task Force. During his duty as a uniformed and plainclothes officer, Kerik earned 30 medals for meritorious and heroic service, including the department's Medal for Valor. On January 1, 1998, he was appointed commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. Kerik earned praise for improving the safety of the city's jail system, and improving the morale of the guards. Kerik became the 40th police commissioner of the City of New York on August 21, 2000, appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Kerik had responsibility for a uniformed force of more than 41,000 officers, and a civilian force of more than 14,500. He had a reputation as “a tough-talking, sometimes coarse, law enforcer who rarely stood on ceremony,” and as one interested in shaking up the status quo. He was considered a tough boss who was willing to fire subordinates whom he considered to be slackers. Kerik was also known to be reluctant to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik stands outside the Federal Court in Washington, D. C., after pleading not guilty to charges of lying to the White House while being vetted to be Homeland Security secretary, June 4, 2009. Kerik pled guilty to charges of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts while a top city official. (AP/ Wide World Photos)
Kerik was in charge of the NYPD on September 11. He was taking a
Shower in his office at 1 Police Plaza when he was informed about the aircraft that hit the North Tower. He immediately headed for the World Trade Center, where he took charge of police operations. Kerik was there when the second aircraft crashed into the South Tower. By this time Mayor Giuliani had made an appearance at the World Trade Center. Communications equipment failed, and coordination between police and firefighters was lacking. Both Giuliani and Kerik survived the collapse of the towers, but they were at risk from falling debris. They made it out of the area and established a new communication center.
Over the next few months Kerik worked to rebuild the NYPD. The loss of 27 police officers on September 11 was debilitating to the department. Kerik spent the next four months working to build the department back to pre-September 11 standards and to improve morale. Mayor Giuliani and Kerik worked hand in hand to restore New York City to normalcy. They both received considerable media attention for their efforts.