Deputy Inspector Kathleen Walsh, commander of the 19th precinct, joined the NYPD in 2000. Photo: David Noonan
The 19th precinct, which reaches from Fifth Avenue to the East River, from 59th St. to 96th St., is one of the most interesting places on the planet. Its residents live within walking distance of some of the finest museums in the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. The precinct is home to world-renowned hospitals and research institutions, like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. There are dozens of foreign consulates and diplomatic residences within its boundaries, along with more than 75 schools, among them Hunter College and Marymount Manhattan College. It has more than three dozen churches, synagogues and mosques. It boasts some of the most valuable residential real estate in the U.S., as well as scores of luxury retailers, including the fashion flagship Bloomingdale's, which draw shoppers from around the globe.
Keeping this unique city-within-a-city safe for its 250,000 or so residents, and the many thousands more who work in and visit the precinct every day, is the responsibility of Deputy Inspector Kathleen Walsh, who took command of the 19th in January 2018. It's a tough job, and she loves it. “The Upper East Side is a great place to live and work and it's our job to keep it that way,” Walsh said in an interview. “Reducing crime and improving quality of life for all is our number one priority.”A Cop From the Start
Walsh, the youngest of 10, was born in Yonkers and lived in Ireland from age 3 to 18, when she returned to the U.S. for college. She thought about becoming a nurse, like two of her sisters, but she didn't like the idea of being inside all the time. “I wanted to be out and about,” she said. She certainly achieved that goal.
Walsh joined the NYPD Cadet Corps while earning a degree in forensic toxicology at John Jay College, and went straight to the academy after graduation. This month will mark her 19th year on the force.
She took to the work, and with the encouragement of mentors like Chief James Murtaugh, currently the executive officer of the Training Bureau, and Chief Kathleen O'Reilly the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Manhattan North, Walsh made her way up through the ranks.
From 2005 to 2010 she was a sergeant in the 19th, when Murtaugh was the commander. It was then that she grew to love the neighborhood, and its people. “It's a great community,” she said. “The people here really respect and like the police. They're good partners. We can't do it alone, as I say all the time. We need their help. Through the implementation of neighborhood policing we have forged a strong partnership with the Upper East Side community and will continue to build on these relationships.”In Command
In her role as precinct commander, Walsh oversees 232 uniformed police officers (including supervisors), 15 detectives (plus a detective squad lieutenant and a sergeant) and 18 civilian personnel. She gets up every morning at 5 and is in her office at 153 East 67th St. by 7.
A natural leader, Walsh exuded a quiet but unmistakable authority as she made her way around precinct headquarters one recent weekday morning. She is the boss, as some of the officers greeted her, but she had friendly words and compliments for everyone she encountered. In the muster room, where she addressed the officers about to hit the streets for the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, she congratulated two officers for successful foot pursuits and arrests the day before.
Walsh takes great pride in the work of the officers of the 19th precinct. “It is rewarding for sure to run a precinct,” she said, “and to have great cops working for you. And great supervisors, which I'm very blessed that I do. I have a very good team. They're in it, you know, they want to do good, and they want to do better, and they want to catch the bad guy.”Respect is the Rule
For Walsh, good police work starts with the cops on the beat, and it's all about respect. “What I tell the officers when I address them in the muster room, and what I tell every new cop that sits in front of me when we get them, is to treat everybody with respect. From the homeless person on the street, to the business owner, to the resident, whoever you come in contact with, treat them all with respect. They're human beings. You're a person, they're a person.”
Walsh said she gets more letters from people who have good experiences with her officers than complaints. But she takes nothing for granted. She pays attention to how her officers deal with people who come to the precinct to file a report, and she reviews footage from body cameras every day.
There are supervisors in the 19th who are mandated to look at the body-cam footage, including the precinct integrity officer. But Walsh keeps an eye on it as well. “I try to check different people, just to see how they are talking to folks and how they handle the job,” she said. “The majority, I'm impressed with. It's very rare that I have to say watch your language or any of that.”
Walsh's career in the NYPD has been propelled by her intelligence and by her sure sense of mission. She knows that being a police officer in New York City can be a stressful and dangerous job. But she has never lost sight of the fundamental task, and she tries to instill that approach in her officers. “I say to them, 'You have put the uniform on. Nobody forced you to put your hand up and swear the oath. You came on to help people, it's your job, so help them. That's what we're here for.'”