Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities

Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities


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.


Tom Wolfe

Ecce facies! Behold the face!

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 Fort Apache, the Bronx, starring Paul Newman, and the television miniseries The Bronx Is Burning. “Skell” is cop slang for a lowlife with the IQ and humane fellow-feelings of a virus.

All a policeman in the South Bronx had to do was cast his net, anywhere, anywhere at all, and he could haul in a wriggling, writhing, rattler-fanged tangle of toxic felons. Catching them was one thing. Taking them into custody was another. As cop lore had it, in Manhattan you could tell some skell he was under arrest and say, “We can do this the easy way or we can do it the hard way—it’s up to you,” and he would at least know what you were talking about. In the South Bronx you got ready to roll in the dirt from the git-go. Every police officer assigned to street patrol had that problem … except for John Timoney. According to the legend, Timoney never once had to draw a weapon . . .

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