The 63-year-old Esposito was the longest-ever serving police chief, putting in over a dozen years in the demanding position. “This is the job I love,” the outgoing chief told NBC 4 New York. “Keeping this city safe, protecting the city, I love doing it. I would do it for nothing.”
In addition to his crime-busting capabilities, Esposito worked at Ground Zero during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and he was instrumental in setting up the NYPD’s new counter-terror strategies. Whether supervising security at parades and other large public events, tracking down murderers, or ordering resources during searches for missing children, Esposito’s outstanding career has often paralleled New York City ‘s history.
The hard-working police leader is especially proud of the unprecedented low crime rates currently occurring in neighborhoods across the city. “We had a record low of homicides and shootings last year,” he said. “We said, ‘What are we going to do in 2013?’ And we’re beating those numbers by leaps and bounds.”
Esposito believes that this good news is the result of new anti-crime initiatives like Operation Crew Cut, which focuses on violent neighborhood street gangs that are considered responsible for much of the city’s shootings. The top cop also cites such technological advances as computer crime-mapping and DNA databanks as contributing factors to the exceedingly low crime rate.
Originally from Brooklyn, Esposito says that he was able to be an NYPD success thanks to the support he got from his family, his religious faith and his fellow police officers. After working in the narcotics division, he was promoted to detective and ran precincts in three different boroughs before ascending to the position of highest-ranking chief. Appointed under Mayor Giuliani, Esposito was kept on by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg. Kelly has lauded Esposito as a strong and steadfast leader over his decades of service.
The determined crimefighter speaks of September 11, 2001 as the day that most affected his core being. “For the rest of my life and the rest of a lot of people’s lives, that is a big, big part of what New York City policing is about – preventing the terrorists from hitting us again,” he stated.
Esposito is deeply admired by fellow officers with whom he often shared regular police duty. And they had special respect for the man who earlier in his career managed to escape without personal injury in a gun battle with an armed robber who was killed. “You replay it over and over in your head for a long time. It’s never a good thing … you never go to work saying, ‘Let me get into a gunfight today,’” he said. “You think about it a lot.”
Esposito has strong memories of everything from challenging hurricanes, gun buyback programs he helped initiate, and everyday crime solving. He also singles out two troubling cases involving young children – the horrific murder of Leiby Kletzky, whose kidnapping and killing by a fellow member of the Borough Park-area Orthodox community galvanized the entire neighborhood, and the disappearance of Patrick Alford, who remains missing.
“I’d love to give this family closure,” Esposito mused. “I’d love to find this kid alive out there somewhere.”
Esposito is not shy about taking on critics of such NYPD policies as stop-and-frisk and targeting specific neighborhoods in the department’s counter-terror program.
“I think the vast majority of people out there agree with the way we are conducting ourselves,” he asserted. “If you go out on that street and ask the majority of people that are living and working in some of the toughest areas in this city, they are going to say, ‘God bless the police. They are doing what they have to do to keep us safe.’”
“As far as terrorism goes, we do everything within the law. Are we aggressive? Sure, we are aggressive,” he noted.
Esposito entered the NYPD in August 1968 at 18 years old as a Police Trainee. In April 1971, he was appointed a Patrolman, and began his career on patrol in the 77th Precinct in Brooklyn. He was promoted to Detective in May 1983, Sergeant in September 1983, Lieutenant in February 1986, Captain in June 1989, Deputy Inspector in August 1993, Inspector in August 1994, Deputy Chief in September 1996, and Assistant Chief in December 1997. On August 25, 2000, he was promoted to the position of Chief of Department. In his career, Esposito has served in numerous commands of the department, including the 77th, 10th, 83rd, 109th, 34th, 66th, and 83rd Precincts. In his last assignment before becoming Chief of Department, Esposito was the Commanding Officer of the Strategic and Tactical Command (S.A.T.COM) Brooklyn North. As Chief of Department, Esposito directed and controlled the daily operations of the five major enforcement Bureaus (Patrol Services, Detectives, Transit, Housing, and Organized Crime Control) within the NYPD. He also coordinated the crime control strategy meetings at which commanders share tactical information and recommend plans of action for realizing crime reduction goals. During his career, he has earned some of the department’s most honored and prestigious awards, including the Combat Cross, the Medal for Valor, and the Exceptional Merit award.
Commenting on Chief Esposito’s retirement, Senator Charles Schumer stated, “Chief Joe Esposito bleeds NYPD blue. I have known ‘Espo’ since the days when he was a precinct commander in my old district. He is the very epitome of why we have the greatest police force in the world – one that turned around a city from chaos to community-control and saved countless lives along the way. Even as he rose to the very top post, he never forgot who he was, or his Brooklyn roots and his values. That’s why Chief of Department Joe Esposito was a 4-star cop. Thank you – we will miss you, Chief.”