NYPD's Chief Joseph Esposito reflects on his abiding passion for the 'best job in the world' he must soon leave: 'I wish I could stay until ... it wasn't as fulfilling'
The city's highest-ranking uniformed officer, who has held the position for a record 12 years, is less than three months from the mandatory retirement age of 63. He takes pride in the department's success in fighting crime and terrorism simultaneously.
Photo: Retiring police Chief Joseph Esposito considers 9/11 the low point of his tenure, but he turned it around. “We’ve thwarted a good number of attacks,” he said. “They all had one thing in common. They hated this country, and they wanted to kill people in this city, and you know what? I’ll put every single one of them in jail every chance I can.”
They may have to drag him out of police headquarters.
Chief of Department Joseph Esposito, the NYPD’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, has held the post for a record 12 years and would work forever if he could.
But he’s less than three months from the mandatory retirement age of 63.
“I wish I could stay until I was tired of it or until it wasn’t fun anymore, or it wasn’t as fulfilling or as satisfying as it is,” he said in a recent interview. “I have the best job in the world. They pay me for playing cops and robbers.”
Esposito, the stoic, mustachioed cop often seen by Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s side at news conferences, is the NYPD’s field general and tactician.
Despite his rank, he’s typically in the trenches at major events.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, a group often critical of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics, said Esposito gets mostly high grades.
“He’ll throw himself into anything, and at times he’s gone overboard, but usually he is the voice of reason and restraint,” Dunn said. “Joe Esposito is good with people, and his departure will leave a big hole at the top of the department.”
Who will succeed him remains unclear. Kelly hasn’t tipped his hand, but he was effusive in praising Esposito last week.
“The NYPD’s public safety record is revered the world over, and Chief Esposito is one of the big reasons why,” Kelly says.
Esposito, born and reared in Brooklyn, joined the NYPD in 1968 as a police trainee. He became a police officer when he turned 21 in 1971.
He was running Brooklyn North’s Strategic and Tactical Command when then-Commissioner Bernard Kerik appointed him chief of department in 2000.
When Mayor Bloomberg succeeded Mayor Rudy Giuliani 17 months later, he named Kelly commissioner, and Kelly kept Esposito in his key post.
Esposito’s low point — watching helplessly as the twin towers fell the ground — evolved into the peak of his career. “We could have thrown up our hands and said, ‘You know what? Terrorism is more important. Crime is going to go up,’ ” Esposito explained. “Guess what? This agency did both.
“We’ve thwarted a good number of attacks,” he added. “They all had one thing in common. They hated this country, and they wanted to kill people in this city, and you know what? I’ll put every single one of them in jail every chance I can.”