John Timoney, former Philly police commissioner, hospitalized with cancer

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney is hospitalized in Miami with stage 4 lung cancer. (Hasan Jamali/AP Photo)

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney is hospitalized in Miami with stage 4 lung cancer. (Hasan Jamali/AP Photo)

John Timoney, who was Philadelphia’s top cop for four years ending in 2001, has been hospitalized with late-stage cancer.

Timoney, 68, is battling stage 4 lung cancer and is being treated at a Miami hospital.

“Voice completely gone,” wrote the Irish-born, New York-raised Timoney in an email asking if he was available for an interview.

Timoney noted that his father died of cancer at age 54.

In a statement, a spokesman for Police Commissioner Richard Ross wrote that he and “the entire Philadelphia Police Department are keeping Timoney in our thoughts and prayers.”

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who was the city’s top prosecutor when Timoney headed the police department, shared the concern.

“I am quite upset about this,” Abraham said. “I hope his treatment goes well. Cancer is nothing to be sanguine about.”

Timoney, one of the most prominent and controversial police chiefs of his generation, was most recently a security consultant for Bahrain and was also hired by Camden County in 2011 to help build a countywide force after the city’s own department was disbanded amid a wave of violence and financial woes. 

In Bahrain, Timoney led reforms in the Gulf kingdom after reports of law enforcement authorities suppressing and torturing protesters.

Timoney served as Miami police chief from 2003 to 2010, where he presided over a drop in the city’s  murder rate and trained officers on the use of lethal force, lowering the number of police-involved shootings over several years. He also held several posts with New York City’s Police Department over nearly three decades, where he helped create a statistics-based method of policing known as Compstat. After its success in New York, dozens of other cities adopted it. 

While in Philadelphia, Timoney led the police department during the Republican National Convention in 2000. He emphasized the use of nonlethal force, such as pepper spray, but he has been condemned for allegations of violating protesters’ civil liberties.

The city’s police arrested more than 400 demonstrations during the Republican convention after sometimes-violent confrontations. Nearly all of the protesters arrested had their charges thrown out in court.

Timoney was also criticized for collaborating with Pennsylvania State Police in infiltrating and spying on demonstrators. Notably, some 70 people were arrested at a West Philadelphia puppet warehouse following suspicions that their activities were linked to Communism and potentially dangerous.

“What he have here, it has become clear to be, are conspirators,” Timoney told WHYY in 2000. “There’s nothing else to call them. People that sit around and conspire to come into city after city to cause mayhem, to cause violence against police officers and citizens.”

In a 2007 profile of Timoney, The New Yorker wrote of him:

“Timoney is widely regarded today as one of the most progressive and effective police chiefs in the country — a reformer and an iconoclast. In New York, where he served under [Bill] Bratton, Timoney talked about replacing steel handcuffs with Velcro straps —pink if possible. In Philadelphia, where he was police commissioner for four years, he had his force trade in their blackjacks for pepper spray, and he gave women’s groups the right to review sex-crime cases.”

Esquire has called Timoney “maybe the best cop,” while the Miami New Times had the opposite view, dubbing him “America’s worst cop.”

Putting his polarizing nature aside, Abraham said she is hoping he recovers, citing the time they spent together working together to further public safety in Philadelphia.

“John and I worked very closely while he was in Philadelphia,” Abraham said. “He was a very unusual officer and just what the city needed after [former Police Commissioner] Richard Neal, no disrespect intended.”

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