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Outsider Talked Up for Chief

Search: John Timoney, who helped cut New York crime, is LAPD 'candidate du jour.'

September 16, 2002|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the Los Angeles Police Commission works to narrow the list of police chief candidates this week, John Timoney, an outside contender who attracted little notice at first, has caught the fancy of a number of city officials.

Ever since the former Philadelphia police commissioner arrived in Los Angeles a week ago to interview for the city's top cop job, City Hall politicos have been talking about the Irish-immigrant officer, who spent most of his career in the NYPD. Some are impressed by his style, others by his record at two of the nation's largest police agencies. Still others say they like that he has gone about his quest for the job with little fanfare.

There's no guarantee that Timoney, 54, will make the cut when the commission meets to deliberate Tuesday and attempts to narrow the field to three. But for now, the affable policeman has turned heads among city decision-makers, who say they have found his candor and down-to-earth style refreshing.

One sign of the impression Timoney has made: There have been numerous failed attempts in private conversations throughout City Hall to imitate his Irish-New York accent, which Timoney's friends call the "Bronx brogue."

"He's the candidate du jour," said one ranking city official. "It's the flavor they like today."

"What I'm hearing is that they like the Irish guy from New York," said political consultant Rick Taylor. City officials knew little about Timoney when they began their search to replace former Chief Bernard C. Parks.

There are 13 finalists for the chief's position--all but five of them are either current or former members of the LAPD. At different times in the process, city officials have been enamored of a number of the candidates. Early on, Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker, a former LAPD deputy chief, seemed to be a favorite. Then, when Bill Bratton, former commissioner of the New York Police Department, announced that he was seeking the job, the buzz around City Hall was that Bratton's credentials would make him hard to beat.

Among LAPD insiders, speculation has centered on Deputy Chief David Kalish, a favorite of some city leaders who believe he would bring new direction to the LAPD without the risk of hiring a chief from outside the department.

In recent days, however, much of the focus has shifted to Timoney, who was the second in command under Bratton. He took over the Philadelphia Police Department in 1998 but stepped down shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to work as a private consultant for a New York City security firm.

"He's got a pretty outgoing personality and wins people over," said one City Hall insider. "But anything could happen. Honestly, I think it's totally wide open."

In one of his few interviews about his decision to apply for the LAPD job, Timoney said he wants the chance to overhaul the LAPD.

"I see it as a great challenge," he said. "And I find challenges invigorating."

Officials who have met with Timoney said that he appears to understand how to motivate rank-and-file police officers, while at the same time seeming sensitive to civil liberties issues.

Also, his experience in running large law enforcement organizations has impressed some lawmakers.

He helped Bratton cut crime in New York City, and he is credited with cleaning up the Philadelphia Police Department.

What Timoney does not have, however, is specific knowledge of Los Angeles, either geographically or politically. In fact, he has been to the city only twice in his life.

Timoney said he recognizes that some people in Los Angeles want an insider, but he said that he is "a quick study." He notes that he was new to Philadelphia when he took over as head of the police department there.

"It's not like I'm a history teacher applying to be a brain surgeon," he said. "I've worked in two big city police departments. I've worked as a consultant for police departments around the world. The issues are the same."

Timoney's supporters say he would easily learn Los Angeles and relate to the city's diverse immigrant communities.

Timoney and his family immigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was 13. After his father died of cancer, he helped support his family in New York City. In 1969, he joined the NYPD and worked his way up.

In Philadelphia, he pushed for a measure similar to Los Angeles' "Special Order 40," which prohibits police from inquiring about the immigration status of people who are either victims or perpetrators of crimes.

Mayor James Hahn's chief of staff, Tim McOsker, received positive feedback about Timoney on his fact-finding missions to Philadelphia and New York City--contributing to the buzz at City Hall. But Deputy Mayor Matt Middlebrook cautioned that McOsker has picked up little negative feedback on any of the candidates.

"What has been reinforced for Tim in these discussions and for the mayor and the Police Commission is, we have a good list of people," Middlebrook said. "Each of these candidates is going to bring a basketful of experience and pros and cons with him. The mayor has to weigh all of those things."

Timoney said he is pleased that city officials are giving him a serious look.

"I want to be the LAPD chief," he said. Attempting a surfer's accent, he added: "It would be totally awesome, dude."

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Times staff writer Beth Shuster contributed to this report.

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