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U.S. Law Enforcement Leader John Timoney Dies At 68

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

John Timoney, one of the country's most influential law enforcement leaders has died. Timoney was born in Ireland before his family immigrated to New York, and he began a career in policing. He went on to lead police departments in Philadelphia and Miami where he presided over major drops in crime. And as WHYY's Bobby Allyn reports, Timoney's career was marked by both innovation and controversy.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Timoney started out as a beat cop on the scrappy streets of the South Bronx, and as he rose through the ranks, he acquired a reputation as a tough and respected officer.

JOE SEXTON: And he loved, you know, his image as some kind of Jimmy Cagney character.

ALLYN: Former New York Times crime reporter Joe Sexton.

SEXTON: You know, it was easy for reporters to fall in love with John. One, he's a rare cop who would actually talk to you. Two, he could talk in, you know, full sentences.

ALLYN: When Ed Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia, he watched Timoney drive down crime in New York, so he recruited Timoney in the late 1990s to lead Philly's force. Unlike most police bosses, Timoney liked being on the streets.

ED RENDELL: Even as commissioner, he would get into shorts and a police shirt and a helmet and go on a bike patrol himself. He would make arrests himself.

ALLYN: Timoney was a marathon runner and confident with his footwork. He bragged to reporters that he liked letting bad guys go after catching them just so he could chase them again. He also once arrested a purse snatcher while on a jog. Thomas Nestel was a police captain in Philadelphia under Timoney.

TOM NESTEL: I went to a meeting in my district, and I saluted him and said, you know, welcome to Philadelphia. And he walked right past me. You know, he wanted to talk to people in the community, and he wanted to talk to cops. He didn't want to talk to commanders.

ALLYN: When he was in the police headquarters, he was crunching numbers. Lynne Abraham, who was Philadelphia's district attorney at the time says Timoney pioneered the use of Compstat, a numbers-based policing model. It changed how officers were deployed. He'd map out daily crime and try to nab criminals before they could strike. It became a national model.

LYNNE ABRAHAM: Telling the exact statistics of what's happening in your particular district is important without fudging or lying or faking or covering up.

ALLYN: Timoney attracted national attention in 2000 when Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention. In his New York-tinged brogue, Timoney had sharp words for the demonstrators ahead of the Philly event.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN TIMONEY: What we have here - it's become clear to me - are conspirators, and there's nothing else to call them - people that sit around and conspire to come into city after city, to cause mayhem, to commit violence against police officers and citizens.

ALLYN: His department arrested hundreds of demonstrators. When he moved on to Miami's police force, he took similar blowback over the mass arrest of protesters during a trade meeting. He died at 68 of lung cancer. For NPR News, I'm Bobby Allyn in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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