For seven years, John Timoney redefined policing in Miami. While he was chief of the Miami Police Department, his innovative approaches to police shootings and patrolling mass protests drew both international praise and condemnation, making him one of the most visible cops in the world during his heyday.
Timoney died last night after a battle with lung cancer, according to Miami Police officials. He was 68 years old.
On the surface, Timoney was a charismatic Irish cop straight out of an old-school, hardboiled detective movie. But over more than four decades of policing mostly in New York, Philadelphia, and Miami, he earned a reputation as a brainy experimenter who brought new tactics and techniques to the job.
Timoney began his career in New York, where he worked his way up the ranks from street cop to become first deputy commissioner in the mid-'90s. The Philadelphia Police Department handed him the reins as chief in 1998, when he had his first brush with the type of police work that would come to define his legacy.
At the 2000 Republican convention in Philly, Timoney earned both plaudits and criticism for his approach to mass protests in the streets. Hundreds of protesters were arrested, while Timoney developed more controversial techniques such as using undercover officers to infiltrate activist groups.
Miami hired him as chief in 2003, and he quickly had a chance to refine his unique approach to mass protests at an event that made him internationally famous. That October in downtown, the Summit of the Americas drew thousands of demonstrators.
Timoney organized an extremely aggressive response to the protests. He brought in thousands of cops and made liberal use of nonlethal weapons such as tear gas, rubber bullets, and Tasers on the activists. The ACLU and other groups slammed Timoney for the police's tactics, but in the eyes of organizers, Timoney's approach was so successful that it spawned the "Miami model" — a new approach to mass protests built around his style at the Summit of the Americas.
The summit response may have been Timoney's most infamous contribution while in Miami, but he earned plaudits for turning around a troubled department that had been racked by indicted cops and rising crime.
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Crime dropped under Timoney's watch, and his strict approach to police-involved shootings also changed a Wild West culture on the force. At one point, his officers went 20 straight months without firing a single round on duty.
Manny Diaz, who was mayor when Timoney was hired, later became good friends with the chief. He left a tribute on Twitter this morning: