John Timoney, chief of the City of Miami Police Department, has overhauled some of the country’s largest police departments once plagued by corruption and police brutality. He shared the secret of his success during a recent visit to Fordham.
The key is holding police officers accountable, he said.
“In order to effectively deal with crime, you first need to implement the correct policy within the department,” said Timoney during the 2005 Gannon lecture titled, “Changing Police Departments: New York, Philadelphia, and Miami.” “If you hold police accountable for their actions, you can focus on the core mission, which is to protect the community, and making people feel safer.”
Timoney, a 1977 graduate of Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, began his career in the New York Police Department and soared through the ranks, becoming the youngest four-star chief in the department’s history. With the promotion came the responsibility of fixing rampant crime with an understaffed police department.
“I remember laying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling…wondering what I was going to do,” Timoney recalled. “Finally, I decided that they all had to go.”
The next morning, Timoney fired the seven most senior officers in the police department, some of whom were close friends. He established a better network of communication, and would meet weekly with a group of the top local commanders.
The new atmosphere of accountability in the department produced immediate results. In 1994, his first year as chief, crime went down 15 percent, he said.
Timoney would later be named first deputy commissioner, the second highest rank in the department.
His swift rise to the top and unprecedented success did not go unnoticed. In a 1998 visit to Philadelphia, Mayor Ed Rendell hired Timoney as commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department on the spot.
Timoney’s main concern in Philadelphia was police brutality. At the time, an average of 10 people were killed by Philadelphia police officers a year.
Timoney implemented a career development program in Philadelphia, which he called “amazingly responsive.” The program, along with other changes in the department, proved successful in curbing police brutality. When Timoney left Philadelphia after four years, the average number of people killed by police officers a year fell to two.
His ability to curtail police misconduct in Philadelphia made Timoney an easy choice to replace Raul Martinez as Miami’s Chief of Police. He was charged with reforming a department plagued with scandal and low moral, while balancing ethnic sensitivities in the diverse city.
The day Timoney was sworn in, 13 Miami police officers were on trial in federal court for questionable shootings. Timoney immediately implemented the “no shoot policy.”
“It was simple,” he said. “If you shoot, you’re fired.”
This became the most restrictive shooting policy in the country. In his first 20 months in Miami, police did not discharge a single bullet at an individual.