The Blanket

Chief Constable Orde

Terry O'Neill

I live in Albany, New York, something of a hotbed of Irish-American culture and the place where the first man sworn in as a member of the Garda Siochana in 1922 lies buried. It is also the place where, in December 1986, I met the man who then-Governor Mario M. Cuomo had just nominated as top man for our respected New York State Police -- Tom Constantine. You have heard of him, no doubt. I took a liking to the man on the spot and have followed his subsequent career since as an admirer, critic and even, some would say, symbiote.

You see, during the years in which he was imprinting his distinctive stamp on the NYSP and later the Drug Enforcement Administration, I was quietly working with various members of the New York State Legislature in an effort to turm policing in our state -- an enterprise that employs some 70,000 police officers and 500 state, county and municipal police agencies -- into something more nearly approaching the community oriented and problem solving service that is at the heart of the Patten Commission's vision for the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I did this through nearly a decade of individual campaigns for legislation nudging police training and community programs toward initiatives targeting crime involving juveniles and the elderly, fostering interagency cooperation. promoting crime prevention and victim advocacy and by creating a number of public relations assets that collectively give police agencies the wherewithal to project an updated and positive image.

To say the least, Mr. Constantine, although he has been an unfailingly great inspiration, has never been my close collaborator in this enterprise and probably hasn't the slightest inkling of what it is all about. In fact, I've been told by one individual who has known both of us for a long time that because I have popped up on every stage upon which he has been called to perform, I scare him. If that is the case, I exult in the achievement because Mr. Constantine scares everybody else (whether he knows it or not) and I would like, in the complete reverse of the subject of a famous Norman Rockwell painting depicting a state trooper and a small boy who had been running away from home, to take him by the hand and lead him home to something that was best articulated by the first leader of the New York State Police. Col. George Fletcher Chandler issued his first directive in 1917 instructing the new-fledged troopers that the last thing they would ever want to be was the person a parent would point out to an unruly child with the threat: "If you don't behave, I'll have this man take you away."

I'm dropping you this line as the first Chief Constable to be chosen under the scheme created under the Patten program and Police (NI) Act takes office. Mr. Orde and the Policing Board that selected him stand at a moment as historic for the PSNI as that at which Col. Chandler stood in 1917. I'd like, in particular, to take the opportunity this occasion presents to fine tune Commissioner Constantine's evolving role -- central to which is the authority conferred by the amendments to the Police Act to recommend legislation to Parliament relating the more perfect implementation of Patten.

And so, I’d like to congratulate the people of Northern Ireland on your good fortune in finding an individual of the caliber of your new Chief Constable Mr. Hugh Orde to assume the duties of the most challenging police command in the world. Many who have great faith in and high hopes for the promise of professional policing in bringing the blessings of civic peace and democratic government to divided communities are watching the Patten process unfold in Northern Ireland closely. I join with all of them in wishing that process and the man who now has “operational responsibility” (to employ the Patten Commission’s term) for achieving it every success.

As Chief Constable Orde assumes command and articulates his fundamental priorities for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we do well to reflect that this great experiment has as its hoped-for product a police service that will be “a collective community responsibility; a partnership for community safety” the building and maintaining of which must be “the core function of police service, not the work of a specialised command or a separate cadre of police officers.” It has, in the words of the Patten Commission, “implications for the structure of the police, which should become more decentralised; for the management style, which should become more open and delegated; and for the manner of policing down to the beat level, which should become orientated towards active problem solving and crime prevention, rather than more traditional, reactive enforcement.”

That being said, from the first time I read the Patten Commission recommendations just after the appointment of Mr. Constantine as Oversight Commissioner, I have been chuckling over the extraordinary incongruity of asking him to certify, if not preach, that which he has never yet practiced. Both as Superintendent of the New York State Police and Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, he tolerated no decentralized structure, open or delegated management style or pro-active problem solving or crime prevention. Quite the contrary. As I have told the members of the Policing Board, he imposed a highly centralized, rigorously paramilitary management structure that was ultimately limited to getting results -- granted and indisputably, some quite impressive -- but not solutions. I have never known him to be even dimly aware of anything beyond his operational responsibility. Well, I have long had great faith in and high expectations for Commissioner Constantine. He himself has told me more than once that a prime tenet of his life and career has been self improvement. But he is definitely a work in progress and to achieve the greatness of which he is capable, he must go further and heed the advice of the ancient philosopher : “First, you must change your life.”

Referring back to the Patten Commission recommendations, let us be reminded that in broad terms, it envisioned a police service that was guided on a day to day basis by a command staff exercising that operational responsibility. That was to operate within a framework of goals and objectives covering a three to five year period prescribed by the Policing Board. Both of these were to proceed within the larger framework of policies ultimately to be set over a longer time-line by the devolved Executive. This talk, however, is all of administrative and budgetary matters, bureaucratic goals and timetables, hiring quotas, new training curriculum, tweaking of implementing legislation and such. Where is the love? Nowhere do I see the matrimonial event necessary to infuse the new police service with true passion for the community -- and vice versa. Mere operational responsibility implies perfunctory performance by the bridegroom. A program of goals and objectives might turn out to be nothing more than three to five years of “Not tonight, Honey, I have a headache.” And longer term policies might leave the bride sharing the plight of Penelope -- husband absent and fighting off unwelcome suitors by day whilst unraveling a shroud night after frustrated night for the next twenty years.

Of all the new or newly constituted players in your policing reform process, only Oversight Commissioner Constantine has the potential to play a truly unique and unprecedented role in this unfolding drama. He is the deus ex machina, so to speak, a potential Prometheus asked now to descend from Olympian heights -- heights he attained legitimately, step by step over a distinguished career of forty years. If he found up there (as he did not along the way) and is now inclined to bestow upon us the divine gifts of the light and fire of community oriented and problem solving policing, they’re his to give. So, shall we drop a broad hint through the vehicle of the bridal registry (with, perhaps, your journal serving as that theatrical prop) that this is the only gift that will do? Please do. I find the role he is currently playing unsatisfactory in the extreme. You might as well hire a firm of accountants -- perhaps Scrooge & Cratchit -- to do the books and issue the dry and colorless reports he has produced thus far.

Chief Constable Orde made explicit in his initial public statements that he is ready to tackle the problems at hand -- the manpower and experience defecits -- especially amongst detectives-- slumping morale, continuing public disorder, metastasizing organized crime, increases in drugs trafficking and street crime and always the looming threat of renewed paramilitary violence. With his extraordinary resume of achievement, he will doubtless acquit himself splendidly. But someone has to project a well-defined and suitably high profile for the community and problem solving policing that is the ultimate goal of the Patten process -- a result that would have positive repercussions throughout the civilized world.

I hope that it will not be imposing too greatly upon the people of Northern Ireland to ask that you send Commissioner Constantine back to me one of these days in the baptismal robes of a new convert to community oriented and problem solving policing. In law enforcement, such an occurrence would rank in historical importance right up there with the conversion of the Fourth Century Roman emperor known to history as Constantine the Great to Christianity. Should such a miracle come to pass, I shall personally see that you get full credit for it.


Terry O'Neill was Special Assistant to Mr. John Poklemba, former NY Governor Mario Cuomo's cabinet-level advisor on criminal justice matters at the same time that Oversight Commissioner Tom Constantine was head of the NY State Police. He has particular expertise in matters relating to the legislative process and police administration and training. The New York Times has designated him "a former top criminal justice advisor to Governor Mario M. Cuomo."






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Acceptance of dissent is the fundamental requirement of a free society.
- Richard Royster

Index: Current Articles

15 September 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Suppression of Dissent: What it is and what to do about it
Brian Martin


Chief Constable Orde
Terry O'Neill


Yes, Yes, RUC, It's The Force to Set Us Free

Anthony McIntyre


2 Quit Human Rights Commission
October Fifth Association


What's Good For the Goose
Anthony McIntyre


A Burning Issue
Davy Carlin


The Letters Page has been updated.


12 September 2002


Controlling the Streets

Anthony McIntyre


Prevent the Bush Turkey Shoot
Davy Carlin


The 96th Life
Halime Tokay




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