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Beat Cop to Top Cop

A Tale of Three Cities

By John F. Timoney. Foreword by Tom Wolfe

Publication Year: 2010

Born in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Dublin, John F. Timoney moved to New York with his family in 1961. Not long after graduating from high school in the Bronx, he entered the New York City Police Department, quickly rising through the ranks to become the youngest four-star chief in the history of that department. Timoney and the rest of the command assembled under Police Commissioner Bill Bratton implemented a number of radical strategies, protocols, and management systems, including CompStat, that led to historic declines in nearly every category of crime. In 1998, Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia hired Timoney as police commissioner to tackle the city's seemingly intractable violent crime rate. Philadelphia became the great laboratory experiment: Could the systems and policies employed in New York work elsewhere? Under Timoney's leadership, crime declined in every major category, especially homicide. A similar decrease not only in crime but also in corruption marked Timoney's tenure in his next position as police chief of Miami, a post he held from 2003 to January 2010.

Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities documents Timoney's rise, from his days as a tough street cop in the South Bronx to his role as police chief of Miami. This fast-moving narrative by the man Esquire magazine named "America's Top Cop" offers a blueprint for crime prevention through first-person accounts from the street, detailing how big-city chiefs and their teams can tame even the most unruly cities.

Policy makers and academicians have long embraced the view that the police could do little to affect crime in the long term. John Timoney has devoted his career to dispelling this notion. Beat Cop to Top Cop tells us how.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: The City in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. ix-xv

That face, belonging to John Timoney, has become a legend in its own time. In the 1970s, Timoney was a young New York City police officer assigned to street patrol in the South Bronx, the worst skell hole on earth. Everybody else on earth got an eyeful of the Bronx’s skellbent misery in the movie...

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Introduction: Be Careful What You Wish For

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pp. 1-5

In January 1984, New York City mayor Ed Koch named Ben Ward the new police commissioner, succeeding Bob Maguire, who had held the position for the prior six years. Maguire’s administration had been devoted to fixing the damage done as a result of the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, when the city had gone bankrupt. Staffing levels in the...


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1. Getting on the Job

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pp. 9-18

Sometimes, when a chief of police or other high-ranking police official is interviewed regarding his career, he will say that he always wanted to be a police officer. Not me. I never gave much thought to becoming a cop. In fact, I was not very fond of police officers while I was growing up in Washington Heights, a working-class neighborhood in...

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2. The South Bronx

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pp. 19-54

In July 1969, I turned twenty-one years of age, was sworn in as a full-fledged police officer, and was assigned to the 44th Precinct in the Highbridge section of the South Bronx. I had actually gone to Cardinal Hayes High School in that part of the Bronx, so I was somewhat familiar with the neighborhood. I also lived just across the Harlem River...

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3. From Sergeant to Management

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pp. 55-72

I had passed the police sergeant’s exam in 1973 with a decent score. However, with little seniority and no veteran’s preference points, I wound up ranked between eight hundred and nine hundred on a two-thousand-person list. Historically, the NYPD would have promoted up to fifteen hundred sergeants on that list, so I was pretty certain of...

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4. Captain Timoney

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pp. 73-88

After numerous postponements of the captain’s exam in 1984, the test was finally administered in January 1985. It was a good time to take the captain’s exam since the Ward administration was committed to increasing the number of captains in the NYPD. My boss, Robert Johnston, was a strong proponent of this increase. He also supported...

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5. Chinatown

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pp. 89-109

The 5th Precinct is just one of seventy-six precincts in New York City (strangely, the precinct numbers go up to 123, with random numbers being skipped along the way). At the time that I was named commander of the 5th Precinct, there were about thirty chiefs in the NYPD, from one-star deputy chiefs to the four-star chief of department. Of...

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6. Back to Headquarters Under Dinkins

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pp. 110-140

My new assignment at police headquarters was as commanding officer of the Chief of the Department’s Office, which meant running the office’s day-to-day operations. This would allow Deputy Chief Walsh to concentrate on the bigger issues facing the department, ranging from focusing on critical policy development to assisting operations in...

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7. The Bratton Era Begins

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pp. 141-164

I did not know Bill Bratton before he was hired as police commissioner. I had met him only once, when he stopped by to meet with a group of NYPD runners prior to the 1993 Boston Marathon. At that time, Bratton was the number two guy at the Boston Police Department, having returned to that city after a two-year stint as the head of the New York...

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8. CompStat, Crowd Control, and the “Dirty Thirty”

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pp. 165-185

Probably the best-known—but least-understood—management technique in the Bratton administration was CompStat: a weekly crime meeting held at police headquarters by the top police brass and all of the local commanders, including specialized units such as detectives and those who dealt with narcotics, gangs, and...

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9. The Beginning of the End

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pp. 186-198

At the end of 1994, Dave Scott, the first deputy commissioner, announced his retirement. The day after Scott’s announcement, I received a note on red paper from my Chinese godfather, Shuck Seid: “If you want to be number one, you must first become number two.” While I certainly wanted the job as first deputy commissioner, there...

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10. Interregnum

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pp. 199-203

After retiring from the NYPD on April 27, 1996, I had a few job offers in the private sector, but none was very appealing. I knew in my heart of hearts that policing was still in my blood. So I did the next best thing—I became a police consultant, sometimes with Bill Bratton and at other times with Jack Maple. The NYPD had received a great deal...


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11. Philadelphia, Here I Come

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pp. 207-238

In the late fall off 1997, Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia hired Bill Bratton to do a quick study of the Philadelphia Police Department and to make some recommendations to improve its crime-fighting efforts. As part of his review Bill asked me to read some documents, including a management study of that department that had been...

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12. Pugnacious Philly

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pp. 239-261

When I accepted the job of commissioner from Mayor Ed Rendell, I did so believing that I would hold that position for his last two years in office and then be off on my merry way because every new mayor wants to have his own police commissioner. After the Democratic primary in May 1999, John Street, the former president of the City...


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13. Paradise Found: Miami

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pp. 265-290

In late November 2002, on a typically cold day in New York, with the temperature hovering in the high forties, I received a telephone call from Patrick Kelly, chief of police of a town called Medley, a small hamlet just west of the city of Miami. I didn’t know Chief Kelly, but he indicated that he had been following my career over the years. He...

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14. Free Trade, Free Speech, and the Politics of Policing

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pp. 291-321

As a police chief you will sometimes hear allegations made about you and motives ascribed to you that will leave you scratching your head. In February 2003, I became aware that the Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA) was going to hold a meeting in Miami that coming November. I may have heard of the FTAA before that, although...

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Conclusion: Where We Were, Where We Are

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pp. 322-332

Over the course of my career, I have attended numerous community meetings and have obviously conversed with thousands of police officers. Two refrains—or should I say laments—always appear and reappear without fail. Whether it was when I was a young officer patrolling the streets of the South Bronx, a midlevel manager rising...


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pp. 333-336

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205428
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242461

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The City in the Twenty-First Century