An (Early) Handicapping of Some Possible Candidates for the Next NYPD Commissioner


Democratic primary winner Bill de Blasio met last Wednesday with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for what was probably a pretty interesting conversation. The meeting was scheduled for three hours, and said to be a primer on law enforcement issues that the next mayor may confront. (Republican primary winner Joseph Lhota was set to have his meeting this week.)

One wonders whether they discussed who the next police commissioner might be, which right now seems to be the most important decision the new mayor’s going to make. After the jump, we present an incomplete list of the names being floated as possible successors to a guy with some big shoes–Kelly, the longest serving commissioner in NYPD history. We should note that it has been 23 years since an African-American held the top position in the department. No one of Hispanic descent, and no woman has ever run the department. Given the stop-and-frisk controversy, that has to be a consideration for the next mayor.

Phillip Banks III. In his early 50s, Banks is certainly young, but he’s now chief of department, the highest uniformed rank. He earned good marks as commander of Manhattan North and as the head of the Community Affairs Division. He is African-American. Banks’ dad was a cop, and his brother David is the founder of the Eagle Academy charter school program and leader of Mayor Bloomberg’s Young Men’s Initiative. His most public move in his short tenure as chief of department has been to get cops to look better.

William Bratton. Kelly repeated as commish (he first held the job under Mayor David Dinkins, before returning in 2002 under Bloomberg). So why not Bratton? After all, the Boston native was one of the men responsible for the creation of CompStat, the NYPD crime-fighting strategy that helped drive down crime here over the past 20 years. That’s a pretty good résumé item. Bratton went on to run the Los Angeles Police Department, and has been a consultant to various cities, including Oakland. The question is whether he can keep his ego in check. Don’t forget that, rightly or wrongly, Mayor Rudy Giuliani canned him when Bratton’s profile got larger than the mayor’s.

Wilbur Chapman. Like Kelly, Chapman, known to friends as Bill, rose from a patrolman to the top ranks of the NYPD, as chief of patrol under then-Police Commissioner Howard Safir in 1995. Chapman, who is African-American, has a sterling résumé, and is known as an independent thinker but also someone who keeps his thoughts in-house. In 1998, Giuliani named him the commissioner of the Department of Transportation, where he did a lot to reform the culture of an agency historically riddled with patronage. After that, he moved on to become police chief for the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then returned to the NYPD under Kelly to oversee the Police Academy as deputy commissioner for training. Back in 1999, before the Bridgeport job, he was actually on the list to replace Safir, but Giuliani went with Bernard Kerik–a decision that turned out, as we know, to be a pretty terrible one. He retired from the NYPD just two years ago, so he’s still wired in. A little-known fact about Chapman is that he was good enough on the vibraphone to have had a career as a jazz musician, but he chose a life in law enforcement instead.

Joseph Dunne. Dunne, also a career NYPD man who worked his way up from patrolman, was another name on the shortlist to replace Howard Safir back in 1999. Well-liked in the department and in the media, Dunne also lost out to Kerik, Rudy’s former driver. The perception was that Rudy thought Kerik was more loyal (read: He would let the mayor run the NYPD). Kerik appointed Dunne First Deputy Commissioner, the second spot in the police department. Of the job, Dunne famously said he was disappointed in not being selected as commissioner, but he would have been dog-catcher if it allowed him to remain in the department. When Bloomberg came in, Kelly declined to reappointed Dunne, and chose instead Joseph Esposito. Just like Kelly and Bratton, Dunne went off into the lucrative world of private security for a big bank. In October 2012, Dunne was appointed the head of the Port Authority Police Department, an agency Kelly has clashed with over control of security at the World Trade Center site. Kelly didn’t like Dunne much, but these days that might be a plus. Dunne’s real problem might be that he worked for Kerik, who (Dunne excluded) turned the top echelons of the NYPD into a patronage mill. Can Dunne distance himself from that?

Joseph Esposito. We actually haven’t heard Esposito’s name, but we’re going to put him in this list anyway just out of respect, and because he was first deputy for Kelly’s entire tenure and knows how to run the NYPD. His role in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and his closeness to the stop-and-frisk controversy is going to hurt him as a candidate, at least on the Democratic side. He was the guy Kelly sent out to testify in the stop-and-frisk class-action lawsuit, which resulted in the imposition of a monitor. Espo retired right around then. We thought that Kelly should have testified himself, as stop-and-frisk is really his program, and it was a little unfair to push his deputy into the courtroom. Despite those weaknesses, Esposito was a soldier for the NYPD, one of those folks you need on the line to get things done.

Patrick Timlin. On this list, Timlin is a bit of a dark horse. We include him because a well-placed source mentioned his name. Timlin rose to the rank of assistant chief in charge of the Bronx borough command until he retired in 2002. As head of Queens detectives, he was credited with quickly solving the murders of five workers in a Flushing fast food restaurant. After he retired, Timlin worked for a private consulting firm, Michael Stapleton Associates. In 2009, Timlin agreed to return to the NYPD as deputy commissioner of operations. Past holders of that position have included Garry McCarthy, now the Chicago police chief; Phil Pulaski, who rose to chief of detectives in the NYPD; and, of course, the great man himself, the late Jack Maple, who was credited with creating CompStat. Timlin is well-liked within the department. When Kelly told his staff he was bringing Timlin back, he got a round of applause. But for reasons that are unclear, Timlin left again after two years and is now back in the private sector.

The Wild Card. From time to time, mayors, presented with a certain type of political landscape will select an outsider to run the police department. Today, folks tied too closely to stop-and-frisk and Kelly might be vulnerable, but at the same time, we know that both mayoral candidates are going to move the more partisan beliefs they espoused to the center. The main thing, as a Harlem guy in the know said today, is that “crime can’t go up. It’s not going to. The public has invested too much in our city to allow that, and that’s across the city.” So, an outsider might fit the bill. For example, Lee Brown, the son of Oklahoma sharecroppers, who ran the PDs in Atlanta and Houston before coming to the NYPD in 1990. He went on to become Houston’s mayor some years later.