John Timoney's formula for success: modern science and common sense.
By Howard Goodman
Howard Goodman is an Inquirer staff writer.
Eight a.m. The top brass of the Philadelphia Police Department - as
well as much of the lesser brass - is seated around two U-shape
tables, one ring outside the other, in a half-lit room dominated by
computer-generated crime maps of city neighborhoods projected onto
a wall-size screen.
In a place of no particular distinction sits Commissioner John F.
Timoney, in blue shirtsleeves, the .38 from his street-cop days
hidden in an ankle holster. He's sipping sweetened coffee and getting
ready, maybe, to have a commander or two for breakfast.
Alongside him sit his deputy
commissioners. Across the way, the heads of special crimes,
narcotics, highway patrol, detectives. Elsewhere are perched representatives from SEPTA, the
Philadelphia Housing Authority and Amtrak; probation and parole officers; court system guys
who chase bench-warrant beaters; visiting police officials from Saginaw, Mich.
They're all watching Capt.
Tom Nestel 3d, third-generation Philadelphia cop, all looking over
the crime statistics for his district, the 14th, a relatively peaceful slice of the Northwest that runs
from Chestnut Hill to Logan.
Nestel is first up for the
grilling called "Compstat," a neologism formed of computers and
statistics. Invented by the New York Police Department, Compstat is a marriage of computers and
common sense to spot and stop crime trends. It's the organizational heart of Timoney's overhaul of
the Philadelphia Police Department.
Key statistics look good
this week, Week 44 of 1998. Citywide, homicide is down 18 percent
from a year ago, auto theft down 16 percent. Narcotics arrests have nearly doubled. Complaints
against police, meantime, have fallen by more than a third.
But in other categories -
aggravated assault, rape, theft, burglary - numbers are higher, largely
because Timoney has insisted that police properly record each reported crime. Amazing! For
decades, standard procedure was to classify many offenses as less serious than they really were:
The less crime reported, the less work detectives would have to do, and the more police officials
- and mayors - could boast that Philadelphia was one big city that was safe.
Timoney, the Dublin-born
New Yorker hired by Mayor Rendell last March to jump-start a
police force increasingly disparaged as hidebound and ineffectual, took a close look at the stats
and declared them worthless. Threw them out! Crime would now be counted and mapped
promptly and precisely.
And key players in the department
. . . ate it up! People who had spent entire careers working
under the old system became converts to the new!
funny, sarcastic, profane, unpredictable Chief Inspector Frank Pryor,
head of the Patrol Division, runs Compstat. At the weekly ritual, a rotating series of captains
confronts the crime numbers, saying what they're doing to make the citizens safer.
"What's your most serious problem?" Pryor asks Nestel in his standard opener.
Pryor peppers him: Where did most robberies take place? What time? Gun or strong-arm?
Nestel, a spunky man with
a buzz cut and a bandaged left leg - he tore a knee ligament tackling a
car thief a couple of weeks earlier - says his information is incomplete: "I looked at all the 48s" -
the basic crime report - "and I found out that cops aren't asking enough questions. Forty-six
percent of the 48s did not have complete information.
"What's the guy look like?
There's no description there. I went back and asked the officer, `Why
didn't you put down his age?' He says, `The guy [the victim] didn't give it to me.' I said, `You
didn't ask?' How can we look for the guy [the suspect] and stop more robberies if we don't know
how old he is?' That's ridiculous."
It's hard to blame the street
cops. For generations in Philadelphia, Timoney has said, uniformed
cops "were report-takers, and not very good report-takers at that." Their sketchy reports went to
detectives to investigate. But under Timoney, street cops are expected to know what's happening
on the street.
"What's the supervisor doing
while this is going on?" Pryor demands. "I mean, this isn't brain
surgery. It's who-what-where-when-how. I want to see supervisors riding on these jobs."
They move on to other crimes. Burglary. Aggravated assault with a gun.
Who would have thought it?
Here is the Philadelphia Police Department, gathered in one place,
focused on the specifics of crime, with individual divisions talking to one another instead of
jealously guarding turf. Less than a year ago, the department was a closed and sullen shop,
hobbled by bad habits and outmoded strategies, dispirited, directionless, defensive. But at this
Compstat meeting in mid-November, there's an air of alertness, intensity and purpose. An
undercurrent of pride.
One man has sparked all this.
With the soul of a street
cop, the analytical skills of a professor and the gruff tenacity of - in
words - an "egomaniacal loudmouth," 50-year-old John F. Timoney has awakened the
slumbering, self-satisfied 7,000-officer Philadelphia Police Department and introduced it to
In less than a year, he has
reversed decades of top-down management, giving new authority to
district commanders to cope with crime in their neighborhoods as they think best, with the top
brass offering advice and resources, then holding the captains accountable for results. He has
improved police training. He opened the department's windows wide and invited the media to
gaze inside, a glasnost to go with his perestroika. He launched Operation Sunrise, a long-term
assault on drugs, violent crime and squalor in the city's most neglected neighborhoods. But he
didn't drain other resources to do it; police activity rose in neighborhoods all over the city.
"I can walk and chew gum
at the same time," Timoney likes to say. He seems to be walking,
chewing gum, juggling bowling pins, playing the harmonica, kicking a can, carrying groceries and
checking his wristwatch at the same time.
All the while, he's refocusing
the department's eye on a single target: reducing the number of
victims in a city accustomed to 100,000 major crimes a year.
"Timoney's a crime-fighter,"
says Capt. Jack McGinnis, head of the Major Crimes Unit, a
27-year veteran. "I think everybody on this force became a cop to fight crime. And 95 percent of
what we were doing was social work.
"He's reenergizing people's
original ideas on why they became cops."
Capt. Joseph O'Brien, head
of the 35th Police District (Oak Lane, Fern Rock, Olney) is next up
for Compstat treatment. A savvy, 27-year veteran with rotund features and jet-black hair, he says
the 35th's biggest problem is also robbery.
"We've had 25 Dunkin' Donuts
robbed this year," O'Brien reports. No discernible patterns. No
standout similarities. Probably a crime of opportunity, O'Brien says, with most of the stickups
late at night, when Dunkin' Donuts is the only place open and the lone employees are often young
"So your strategy," Pryor cracks, "is to encourage us to go and have coffee and doughnuts."
They talk about the month's
three homicides. Then Eileen Bonner, captain of the Special
Victims Unit, recounts the rapes. When she gets to the 11-year-old girl assaulted by two men at a
bus stop, Timoney, who has said little up to now, speaks up.
"What proactive steps are you people taking?" he asks, eyes searching.
Bonner, a little flustered, says her unit is distributing flyers.
Timoney presses her. One
man has been arrested. "Have we checked out his associates?
Checked out prior arrests, see what we can learn about him?"
She shakes her head.
Timoney now speaks to everyone.
"We have to care about every victim," he says with gravity,
"but we need to take it very, very personally when children or the elderly are involved. We've
got to get out there and do whatever it takes."
For a moment, the room is
quiet. There is no mistaking the man's seriousness.
The odds were supposed to
be against the new guy. He was an outsider, and the Philadelphia
Police Department abhors outsiders; only twice before in this century was the top cop picked
from outside the organization. Worse, this new guy was also a New Yorker, about as welcome as
a Giants fan in the Vet's 700 level.
He would be hampered by a
civil service structure that gave him virtually no room to name his
own management team. He'd be dogged by the Fraternal Order of Police, a powerful union with a
loyal membership. He'd be undermined by an arbitration board that frequently reversed attempts
to discipline bad cops.
Or so Philadelphia - city of skeptics - said.
But Timoney - a cop's cop
from his pink Irish complexion and mischievous eyes to the
mirror-gloss polish of his shoes - quickly won over the troops. Timoney came from big-city
policing. Personified it, in fact. In 29 years with the NYPD, starting in the tough South Bronx and
on through narcotics, organized crime and internal affairs, he rose through the ranks to become in
1994 the NYPD's youngest-ever four-star chief, in charge at age 44 of the day-to-day
crime-fighting operations of more than 25,000 officers. In 1995, Commissioner William Bratton
made him first deputy commissioner, the department's second-highest post. Timoney oversaw the
NYPD's absorption of the transit and housing police, creating a unified city force of 39,000
officers and 9,000 civilian employees - more than six times the size of Philadelphia's.
Along the way he earned 65
departmental medals, as well as master's degrees in American
history and urban planning. He left the department in 1996 in the bitter fallout of Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani's jealousy-tinged firing of Bratton.
"He's incredibly smart and
he knows everything," says Officer Edward Salamon, an aide to
Pryor. "There's nothing he doesn't know something about or hasn't had some experience with. It's
amazing. I'm just amazed that this type of individual runs the department.
"And he sounds like a cop
- he knows where cops are coming from. As a cop, that makes you
Timoney let none of the supposed
barriers discourage him. "Two phrases he's banished around
here," says Bradford Richman, a Timoney adviser. "We've always done it this way. And You'll
never get that done."
"I have never seen anyone
have such an impact on a city department, with the possible
exception of David L. Cohen," James Jordan, the Police Department's integrity and accountability
officer and a former assistant city solicitor, says of the mayor's former chief of staff.
"We can see a palpable change
throughout the department since March," Jordan adds. "People
are sitting up straighter, dressing neater, keeping their offices cleaner. People are looking like
they're busy, not sitting around and staring at the ceiling.
"People are invigorated,
and for a lot of them for the first time in their careers they can sense
some loosening up of the deep freeze the department was in."
Says Will Gonzalez, executive
director of the Police/Barrio Relations Project, a watchdog on
police misconduct issues: "I don't want to sound like a cheerleader - there are so many challenges
that still have to be met, and he is not omnipotent - but he is taking serious steps to change the
culture of this department."
Even police union head Richard
Costello, who tends to be a harsh critic of any commissioner,
says, "Timoney seems to be an uncharacteristic excellent pick."
But Costello adds, "A lot
of his ideas don't seem to be getting down to the rank and file." Too
many commanders "are the same old gang," not transmitting the commissioner's message. And
Costello worries that Rendell will prove less committed to Timoney's revolution than he has
"One cop said the other night,
`Timoney's like a Winston Cup driver sitting in a Monte Carlo
with four flat tires,' " Costello said recently. "He seems to have all the abilities to run a race, but
in the wrong vehicle."
About the harshest criticism
of the commissioner comes from J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of
the NAACP of Philadelphia, who was a staunch defender of the former commissioner, Richard
Neal. Mondesire gives Timoney's performance so far a B-minus. "I don't think he has reached out
to different groups in the activist community on a personal level," Mondesire says.
Bradford Richman, a lawyer
who works as a Timoney assistant, thinks he understands
Timoney's approach to crime-fighting. It came to him one night when he triumphed over a
Night after night, this mouse
was scampering through Richman's kitchen, unimpressed by many
mousetraps. One night Richman hung around to watch the rodent. Learned his route.
"I put the traps in his path. And I caught him!" Richman says.
"That's what this proactive policing is all about. It's using our brains to attack the problem.
"It's getting in front of the mouse."
That can't happen in a police department without making lots of behind-the-scene changes.
For starters, Timoney placed
key crime-fighting decisions in the hands of commanders. For
decades, captains like Nestel and O'Brien had to check with police headquarters, Eighth and
Race Streets, before risking anything close to an original action.
"Our organization was always
top-down. Captains weren't allowed to be freethinkers," Nestel
says. "In a Timoney organization, you're not successful unless you are a freethinker."
Before Timoney came along,
a captain was empowered to put only two of his hundreds of
officers in plainclothes. To add more, he would need permission from the upper ranks. Dressing
officers in plainclothes is a key tactic against drug dealing, but it also increases opportunities for
corruption. So headquarters tended to say no.
Timoney, however, says: "There's
always going to be corruption in a police department. It's a
fact of life. The answer is good supervision. And when it happens, you take care of it. You
discipline. But you don't fold up your tent because a few officers are breaking the law."
Now captains have the ability
to deploy their troops however and wherever crime patterns
warrant. In the busiest districts, they have their own narcotics teams. The catch is, Timoney puts
performance under a microscope.
"Timoney came here with this
really bizarre idea," Nestel says, "the idea that the police should
be doing police work. And he's encouraging us to do that. We weren't doing police work before.
We were radio responders."
After the 911 emergency number
came into being in the early 1970s, American policing went
wild for the "three R's" - rapid response, random patrols and reactive investigation. The thinking
was: Answer calls fast enough to catch crooks red-handed or at least while the trail is still warm.
That made officers reluctant
to leave their patrol cars, lest they miss a radio call and face
"We never got out of that mode," says Lt. Martin Taylor, who came on the force in 1970.
In the 1980s, attention shifted
to the Police Department's legacy of brutality and its tensions
with black Philadelphia. To build bridges with an estranged population, Commissioner Kevin M.
Tucker ushered in "community policing." The police dotted the city with mini-stations, ran Boys
Club-style mentor programs, "dialogued" with neighborhood groups, went through sensitivity
training. Under Tucker's successors, Willie Williams and Richard Neal, community policing
remained central to the department's mission.
At the same time, the city's
finances were nose-diving. From a high of 8,500 officers in 1979,
the force fell to 6,300 in 1989. Stung by misconduct scandals, the depleted department became
increasingly timid, disbanding district-level drug enforcement, for example, because it escaped
central oversight. Drug arrests fell from 11,300 in 1991 to 7,800 in 1996, according to police
data. Arrests for the "quality of life" crimes of vandalism, prostitution, drunkenness, disorderly
conduct, vagrancy and minor disturbances plunged from 17,000 in 1991 to 11,000 in 1996.
Arrests for major crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and auto
theft) went from 30,000 in 1991 to 25,000 in 1996.
The department's fortunes fell so low that police needed private funds to buy bulletproof vests.
Ninety miles north, meantime,
the New York Police Department was shaking off its lethargy. In
27 months under Bratton, who became commissioner in 1994, serious crime in the supposedly
least-manageable of cities fell by 33 percent and the murder rate was cut in half.
By the spring of 1997, a
growing chorus of Philadelphia community leaders, City Council
members and state legislators was clamoring for the Philadelphia Police Department to get off its
duff and do something about open-air drug corners, do something about the unyielding murder
rate. The critics were not mollified by Rendell's assurances that Philadelphia was among the
safest of American big cities.
Richard Neal, who got the
top job in 1992, proved an ineffective spokesman for the department
- on those few occasions when he spoke. A solid, gentlemanly, taciturn cop, he had little feel for
being a CEO. He delegated very little. His office was piled high with paperwork that he would
often haul home in the carts that flight attendants use. He insisted on making every decision - then
didn't decide. When Timoney took over, he found 500 disciplinary cases awaiting action stuffed
in a box in the commissioner's office, according to Timoney deputies.
As criticism of the department
mounted, Neal "developed a siege mentality," Costello says. "He
didn't trust anyone, and for a year the department was essentially paralyzed. People who worked
up on the third floor said he'd come in in the morning and shut the door, and they wouldn't see him
until it was time to go home." Neal has refused comment.
Neal resigned in early 1998
to take a consultant's job with Drexel University, a face-saving
career change that Rendell insists he played no role in. Trumping his critics, who had demanded
a New York City-style attack on crime, Rendell promptly announced his new police
commissioner - Bratton's top deputy, John Timoney.
"Rendell offered the job
with no strings attached," Timoney says. "He said, `Come down here,
look the place over, make all the changes you want, there'll be no interference from City Hall.' "
Timoney, at the time a long-shot candidate for top cop in Chicago and Washington as well,
thought "it would be fun to work for Rendell." His $113,000 salary was $10,000 more than Neal
got, but $17,000 less than he made as Bratton's deputy.
In philosophy, Timoney represents
a turn away from community policing - or, in his derisive
description, "sitting around the trees, holding hands and singing `Kumbaya.' " He views
Philadelphia's 22 police mini-stations and 12 mobile mini-stations - standout achievements of
previous commissioners - as a fraud upon the public. "They call it community policing, and I call
them hangouts for cops. It's an insane system. I don't want cops hanging out. I want to get them out
on the street, in uniform, where people can see them." Timoney hopes to phase them out - slowly,
in light of their popularity.
Cops throughout the city
seem more attentive to citizens' tips and complaints. "You feel you're
going to get somewhere," says C.B. Kimmins, a veteran activist who heads Mantua Against
Drugs. "You don't hear the old, `Well, OK, we'll see what we can do,' or, `There's a shortage of
Stefan Presser, legal director
of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, says that,
despite hundreds of arrests in Operation Sunrise, "essentially we heard only one or two
complaints. . . . And this is a department that was never able to undertake a major operation
without trampling on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
"I'm forced to believe that
his message - `We're not going to tolerate the breaking of the law to
enforce the law' - must have gone out, and must have been heard for the first time."
Three days after the Compstat
where the Dunkin' Donuts robberies came up, a task force of
uniformed officers, plainclothes officers and detectives stakes out a doughnut shop on North
Broad Street and catches a man in the act. The guy admits to 13 robberies known to the 35th
Some days later, more good
news: A couple of police officers and court officials, working
from a sketch, spot the second suspect in the rape of the 11-year-old walking down a street and
When the North Division reappears
at Compstat in December, the arresting officers stand up
and take a bow.
Right off the bat, he made
the right moves. At his swearing-in, he spoke - in Spanish! - to the
Latino community, saying that everyone could expect a fair shake from the cops. "No one had
ever done that before," Gonzalez, of the Police/Barrio Relations Project, says. "And he's
First morning on the job,
Timoney trekked to the city's bleakest station house - the 24th/25th
District, Front and Westmoreland Streets - to meet cops at roll call. He said, in a brogue-Bronx
mix: "You're going to work harder [hahd-a], and we're going to work smarter [smaht-a], and I'm
going to give you the education and training and resources [resauces] that you need." They hadn't
seen even a deputy commissioner out there in ages.
"He didn't meet with us,
the commanders, for weeks," Nestel says. First Timoney went to roll
calls at all 23 police districts, three shifts a day. At one roll call he gave a commendation to an
officer - unheard of! The paperwork had been stalled for months. Timoney asked the cop where
he wanted to work - highway patrol - and transferred him that night.
"That spread like wildfire,"
Nestel says. "People saw that good work was going to be
In his first wave of promotions,
55 men and women were made sergeant. Timoney sent nearly
every one of them to the Patrol Division. Unprecedented! Instantly, gritty old neighborhood police
work got new respect. It was the first round of promotions in memory in which the cops with
connections didn't get cushy office jobs.
Timoney stripped two district
captains of their command for downgrading crime reports.
Suddenly, crime numbers shot up across the city, commanders now careful to report each incident
When a teenager was released
on DNA evidence after spending a year in jail on a rape
accusation, Timoney said police had made mistakes in the case and that he wasn't satisfied with
explanations he'd heard. Before, "you never saw the chief of police acknowledge wrongdoing,"
says Richman, his assistant.
When an underling made a
mistake - distributing as policy a proposal still in the discussion
stages - Timoney took full responsibility, though he had been taken by surprise. "I really admired
that," says Costello, the FOP president.
In his first weeks, Timoney
took a close look at the department's organizational chart. Judged it
a mess. "It was organized incorrectly to fight crime in any serious fashion," he says. Various
detective units reported to three different bureaus. There were four internal affairs units, "none of
them talking to each other," he says, nor reporting directly to the commissioner. Five hundred
police officers were unaccounted for, squirreled away in long-forgotten task forces or
Timoney told top commanders
to play "this little game: Let's Find the Officers." They did. At
one point, Deputy Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, then head of narcotics, discovered a puzzling
13-officer outpost called the Commissioner's Complaint Unit. "You go back there and tell them I
have no complaints," Timoney told Johnson, "and feel free to disband that unit and get them
involved in fighting crime."
Timoney consolidated, streamlined, untangled the chain of command.
When cops were acccused of
brutality - notably in a melee at last summer's Greek Picnic and in
the Oct. 1 shooting of an unarmed black man, 19-year-old Donta Dawson - Timoney withheld
snap judgments. Yet once the District Attorney's Office charged Officer Christopher DiPasquale
with manslaughter in the Dawson shooting, Timoney did not hesitate to suspend the officer with
intent to fire.
His actions sometimes annoyed the FOP, sometimes the NAACP. Not that he cares.
"I am not going to succumb
to any group pressure," Timoney told a TV interviewer. In
controversial cases, "I will make a determination based on my own objectivity, as much as
humanly possible. I'm sure that no matter what I decide, some people are not going to be happy."
Timoney was appalled by the
department's methods of making promotions and transfers and of
disciplining officers. In Philadelphia, cops believed, the only way to get ahead was to know the
right person. "Ring-kissing," Costello calls it.
"The way to deal with that,"
Timoney says, "is create career paths that are transparent, that are
in writing, where everyone can see how he or she gets ahead in the organization."
"Music to my ears," Costello replies.
So Timoney ordered up new
policies. What came back from aides was less intelligible than
Internal Revenue Service regulations. He ordered a rewrite. But the second effort "was more
obtuse and longer than the first try," Costello says.
And so the new approach to
discipline and transfers remained stymied weeks after Timoney
had hoped to implement it.
"He's got this great idea,"
Costello said last month, "but he hasn't been able to get it off the
Timoney keeps long hours,
starting at 6:15 or 6:30 a.m. with a six- to 10-mile run. His workday
starts around 8 and stretches into the evening with community meetings, charity receptions, and
surprise visits to police districts.
His door swings open all
day. "I run a very informal setup," he says. "There's nothing worse
than formal setups. What they do is discourage people from coming in with bad news."
Shortly after noon, Gordon
Wasserman, his chief of staff and a recognized expert in police
technologies, comes in with a checklist of the day's chores.
"The Brit!" Timoney greets
Wasserman. A former Rhodes scholar from Quebec, Wasserman,
60, worked nearly 20 years in London for the British government. The two of them grin like kids
getting off from school. As if nothing could possibly be more fun than running a big-city police
"What's doin', kiddo?" Timoney's voice rings.
Wasserman hands Timoney a
piece of paper. Timoney pretends to tear it up. "More of
your...memos," Timoney mock-snarls.
"I'm only here because of
him," Wasserman says later. They met when Wasserman was doing
consulting work for the NYPD. "His education, the breadth of his interests, his willingness to do
things in new ways, it's just remarkable," Wasserman continues. "The combination of high culture
and street smarts, I've never seen anything like it."
Timoney leans toward Russian
novels, James Joyce's The Dubliners, Malcolm Lowry's Under
the Volcano and the works of Tom Wolfe, a friend who attended Timoney's Philadelphia
swearing-in ("It's nice to see nice guys finish first," said the white-suited author).
Timoney loves theater - "serious
drama, the more depressing the better." Musical tastes run
from Sinatra to Van Morrison to Blood, Sweat and Tears to the latest program at the Curtis
He has run in 14 marathons.
One year, he did the New York and Dublin marathons in the insane
span of a single week. Since moving to Philadelphia, he has taken up rowing.
He says he is not terribly
introspective. But now and then, on a long run, he'll think back over
his life. "It is a bit of an amazing story," he says, "an immigrant coming in, the youngest four-star
chief in New York history. You know, there are certain milestones that I've accomplished."
He thinks he knows what drove
him. "If you're an immigrant you bring with you an inferiority
complex," he says. "You want to show you're up to what the Yanks are."
"Dublin was a dreary, dreary town," he recalls - wet and cold and jobless.
His father followed a brother
to America in 1960. Finding work as a doorman, he summoned
the rest of the family in 1961. Timoney was 13 when he sailed into New York Harbor with his
mother and younger brother and sister. His father was waiting at the 56th Street pier, "about 112
pounds and half a neck, it was awful." He had been diagnosed with throat cancer since they had
seen him last.
It was a hot July day and
the cab ride was terrifying. Timoney and his brother, Ciaran, had
expected the America of Elvis Presley, swimming pools, the movies. Instead, the cab came to a
halt at a walk-up in Washington Heights. The neighbor boys were out front playing a game, setting
fire to water bugs with lighter fluid, then whacking them with sticks.
Timoney remembers his mother's dismay: "Oh, my God! We've left Ireland for this?"
Timoney's father died on
a vacation trip to Ireland in 1966. Then his mother moved back with
their daughter. But John, 19, and Ciaran, 16, kept the apartment, finishing high school, John
earning money by washing dishes at a hospital.
"He felt obligated to be
the man of the family," says Noreen Timoney, who has been married to
John for 28 years. "There is this sense of honor."
He never aspired to be a
cop. Didn't even like them. "Cops broke our chops when we were
kids," he says. But during his senior year at Cardinal Hayes High School, he took the police exam
as a lark, along with some friends. They all joined the force. Put in your 20 years and retire with
a pension, the thinking went.
But as soon as Timoney put
on the uniform in 1967, he loved it. "It was, `Oh man, this is cool,' "
he says. At 19, too young to be a sworn officer, he started as a clerk-typist in the 17th Precinct on
the tony East Side. His academy training was fleeting; a recruit then spent most of his time
erecting barricades at antiwar demonstrations.
He says he was a "bit of
a rebel" and a "bit of a wise guy," his hair inching over his ears. But
he impressed his bosses with hard work in the tough South Bronx. He wooed Noreen, a cop's
daughter from upper Manhattan, by teaching her to drive a stick shift. She says: "I saw somebody
who was committed and energetic, maybe driven. A little rough around the edges, but you got past
that and saw some genuine caring qualities."
Nights and weekends, he went
to college. Four times a week, he played touch-tackle football.
At the same time, he says, "I was locking up the world."
In 1976, while working nights
as a cop, he was teaching American history by day. He seriously
considered switching careers when suburban Tarrytown High School offered him a job. "But the
thought of working 7 to 3, Mondays through Fridays, summers off - I couldn't do it," he says. "It
was just too regular."
Instead, he transferred to the narcotics division, where he was nearly shot in a gunfight.
Amid New York's fiscal crisis,
Timoney was not promoted to sergeant until 1980. But then he
shot up the ladder. "Everybody knew Sean would go places," says Bronx Lt. Brian Nicholson,
one of Timoney's old crowd, using Timoney's childhood name. "We just didn't know it would be
Noreen also advanced at ABC-TV,
where she worked 17 years in finance, planning and
management. She now runs a small consulting business.
There were, however, troubles
at home. The couple's son, now 18, has endured Lyme disease
and a serious knee injury. Their daughter, 20, has struggled with heroin addiction for at least four
years, plunging the family into a maelstrom of dependency, rehab, fractured hopes. The Timoneys,
protective of their children's privacy, will not discuss details.
On the job, Timoney says,
"You think in segments. You keep stuff like that away. It probably
isn't good, but how else can you survive?"
Loosen civil service's grip
on promotions, widen the range of police recruiting, fight for limits
on gun sales, take on those arbitrators who saddle the police force with bad cops, civilianize 500
police positions to get more cops on the street. . . . So much still to do, so little time.
Rendell leaves office in
January, and that's the end of Timoney's guarantee of employment as
Philadelphia police commissioner. Timoney says he would love to stay, but the offer will have to
come from Rendell's successor.
Costello, of the FOP, says,
"I think he deserves a minimum of four years." It's impossible to
effect permanent change in two years.''
"I don't want this to be
our Camelot," he says. "With Timoney gone, then we're back to the usual
collection of politically connected incompetent morons."
Speculation abounds that
Timoney will dash to New York City when Giuliani's mayoralty ends.
"Not true," says Timoney.
Still, a man can daydream.
The other day Timoney recalled a comment that Jack Maple, the
New York policing genius who invented Compstat, made to Giuliani. Maple told him that if he
really wanted to straighten out the troubled city school system, he should name Timoney
"I was sitting there," Timoney
says, "and they kind of took it as a joke. But Jack was quite
serious. And Jack was right.
"I would have shook the...out
of that place! They wouldn't know which way we were coming!
No more excuses! I would have loved that challenge."
Timoney, a man with a police
department just learning how to count crime correctly, smiles.
"But I have a challenge down here, and I'm very happy with it, thank you very much."