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Monday, July 17, 2000
Timoney's future rides on beating
by Mark McDonald
Daily News Staff Writer

At least for public consumption, Police Commissioner John Timoney doesn't talk or worry much about what the future holds for him.

In the midst of one of the biggest crises facing the Philadelphia Police Department, this New York-trained commissioner actually talks about how he's having a great time.

While the police collar of Thomas Jones last week has become a national story, one that connects video footage of kicking and punching with past images of Philadelphia police brutality, there's another story line worth monitoring.

For Timoney, the former No. 2 police official in New York City and key aide to then Commissioner William Bratton, there is a future after Philadelphia.

But how he handles the Jones investigation will mark his career and affect his options. The master of the Roundhouse for almost 21/2 years, Timoney must pick his way through a mine field of community pressure, national opinion, departmental loyalty and the results of the many investigations now under way.

Bratton put it simply. "Out of crisis comes opportunity," he told the New York Post in a story that speculated about Timoney's chances at becoming New York police commissioner. "[Timoney] thrives on this like a fireman racing to a fire. He will do what is necessary, including disciplining officers if it is warranted."

Reacting to the Post story, Timoney said, "This speculation regarding me has been going on since I got here. The week I got here, the word was I was leaving. That is two and a half years ago. I'm still here. I'm not going anywhere."

And he added, "This continual focus on New York is beyond me. Why not Washington?"

Simply put, because he's a New Yorker and was in the No. 2 job when Bratton ran afoul of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and resigned. Instead of elevating Timoney, the mayor picked his friend Howard Safir for commissioner. When Timoney labeled Safir a "lightweight," Giuliani sent him packing.

But in January 2002 there will be a new mayor in New York. If Timoney succeeds here, he'd have four years under his belt and be a very desirable commodity.

As the multiple investigations get under way, Timoney is able to draw on a tremendous reservoir of credibility, according to David L. Cohen, chief of staff to former Mayor Rendell.

City Councilman Angel Ortiz is part of that reservoir. Chairman of Council's public safety committee, Ortiz has been tough on police brutality issues in the past.

"The videotape [of police beating Jones] is hugely disturbing and we need to get the facts," he said. "But for me, the overriding factor is that I have worked with John Timoney for almost three years and I've found him to be extremely responsible. I have a lot of faith in him."

Kevin Feeley, Rendell's former spokesman, said, "John Timoney has the credibility going in and people all over the country believe he will run a fair investigation. How he handles it will in part determine his future."

And how will he handle the investigation? "All I can do is tell the truth and what it is we are doing. We are conducting a thorough investigation, no whitewash," Timoney said.

James Fyfe, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University and a former New York police officer, flatly calls Timoney "one of the best ever police administrators in New York City."

Here in Philadelphia, Fyfe said Timoney has been responsive to communities and departmental needs. He's rewarded good cops, given them educational opportunities, opened the department to outside researchers, upgraded Internal Affairs, worked with the union and communicated.

As a former street cop in a tough Bronx neighborhood, Timoney "realizes the buck stops with him and we're lucky to have him," Fyfe said. "Philadelphia needs Timoney more than he needs us."

Louis R. Anemone, the former chief of department under both Bratton and Safir, fondly recalls Timoney.

"He's incorruptible and a man of absolute integrity. So, no matter what the issue, he'll do the right thing whether his career or someone else's is involved. He'll run that investigation in a fair and impartial way," Anemone said.

By January 2002, Timoney will have as he described it a "nice shelf life."

"Every mayor has their right to bring in their own commissioner," he said. "This was very unusual that Street kept me. I fully expected to be out of here last December. And I came here with that knowledge. I had the discussions with Rendell. I never expected to be here."

Mayoral politics last fall and his own good performance turned Timoney into a lock for reappointment. In fact, Street boosted his salary and gave him the title of public safety director.

After a long day dealing with the Jones case, Timoney chuckled, "But who knows. Maybe I'll be out of here by Aug. 5. Maybe the Republican convention won't go so well and I'll be fired."

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