By  on November 2, 2010

Removed as many fashion executives may feel from Yemen and other breeding grounds for terrorism, counterfeit goods make those countries closer than the industry might imagine.

That was just one of many examples New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly underlined time and again to show how crime — just like fashion — has gone global. More importantly, the 31-year police force veteran illustrated what is being done to try to keep city streets safe, which indirectly helps prop up consumer confidence. In a presentation laden with statistics to support his claims, Kelly highlighted his department’s new security efforts.

“Now, here in New York City, I believe public safety is the critical factor in maintaining our status as the world’s financial, fashion and retail capital. Why? Because it is the underpinning of business and consumer confidence,” he said. “New York has never been safer than it is today. That has helped cushion New York from the worst effects of the national economic recession, but the fact is we face an extremely complex environment. New York remains the number-one target of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Working with its federal partners, the NYPD has thwarted 11 plots against the city since 9/11, including the May 1 botched bombing in Times Square, Kelly said. Five of those 11 plots were led by homegrown terrorists. Citing last weekend’s foiled bomb plot that originated in Yemen, he noted that counterterrorism remains “an enduring challenge.”

That said, crime in New York City has continued to fall each year since Sept. 11, 2001, by nearly 40 percent overall and is down again this year despite spikes in certain categories. That progress has been made despite having 6,000 fewer police officers than in 2001, a result of citywide budget cuts following the terrorist attacks and the 2008 global financial crisis.

One safeguard has been Operation Impact, a program that deploys new police officers to areas that have seen upticks in violent crime. This setup allows the department to respond to crime trends as they develop. In addition, there is what Kelly called “a policy of engagement,” essentially allowing police to stop individuals on the basis of reasonable suspicion.

Fighting counterfeiting, a $600 billion industry worldwide that costs the city $1 billion in lost tax revenue annually, is another area of focus. “That is a staggering sum in any economy let alone in a financial crisis,” he said.

The city has the only team in the country dedicated to fighting the sale of counterfeit goods — the trademark infringement team. As the NYPD has shut down dozens of locations and has confiscated millions of dollars of knockoffs, counterfeiters have gone mobile using vans as showrooms and reeling in tourists with photos of fake goods. During a yearlong investigation that ended last February, police seized 22 vans and made 43 arrests in relation to an estimated $9 million worth of counterfeit goods. Now, Kelly said his team is relying heavily on industry partnerships to further these efforts. Harper’s Bazaar publisher Valerie Salembier, who chairs the NYC Police Foundation, has helped raise funds to allow the police department to make thousands of undercover buys, including some that have allowed officers to pose as serious distributors of counterfeit goods.

Homegrown terrorism is another area of concern especially in New York. “More and more we see that young men who have been radicalized by living in the West are traveling to battlegrounds in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Kosovo, Somalia and Iraq. There they attend terrorist camps and receive further indoctrination,” Kelly said. “Some take part in combat operations against U.S. troops. Others are redirected home to gather intelligence to carry out.”

To stay on the offensive, New York City now has officers in 11 other countries, and is installing security cameras in the 1.7 mile square miles below Canal Street in lower Manhattan and in Midtown from 30th Street to 60th Street.

During the Q&A segment of the program, Kelly described counterfeiting as “a huge problem and we are down in resources so there is only so much that we can do.” In addition, vendors selling fake goods on the streets only intensifies the problem, Kelly said. At this stage, state legislation has not been approved that would allow police to fingerprint and photograph street vendors suspected of selling counterfeit goods, Kelly noted.

It has been established that sales of some counterfeit goods fuels Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Islamist political and paramilitary organization, Kelly said. “Those connections that have been established are historical in nature. They are not difficult to prove. We know the types of stores and neighborhoods where some of those things are sold,” he said.

Tracking the money trail can be challenging due largely to the prevalence of Hawala, a credit system run through a network of money brokers that relies on the honor system as opposed to certified documents, Kelly added.

Asked afterward what the average person working in the Garment Center can do beyond abiding by the if-you-see-something-say-something mantra, Kelly said. “Don’t buy counterfeit goods — everybody is tempted. It’s the one thing you can put your foot down on. What we’ve seen recently is truly sophisticated manufacturing equipment that in some instances makes product that looks as good as the real thing. They’ve advanced — big time.”

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