NYPD Chief Philip Banks III last week was named as the 13th recipient of the William Tucker Garvin Award, an honor given out every year by the office of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
The award is presented during Black History Month to an individual of African-American heritage in recognition of outstanding public service.
“When I told my family, my son asked ‘What did you do to deserve an award?’” Banks said in a ceremony held in Brown’s conference room at his Kew Gardens office.
Those assembled, including Brown, Police Commissioner William Bratton and Borough President Melinda Katz, were there to elaborate for anyone else who did not know.
Members of Garvin’s family also were in attendance.
Garvin was the first black assistant district attorney in the history of the Queens office, serving from 1952 until July 1966, just a month before his death.
Born in South Carolina in 1898, he was one of the first two African Americans to graduate from St. John’s University School of Law in 1931.
Establishing a civil practice in Harlem, he moved to Queens in 1943 and was appointed to School Board 50 by then-Queens Borough President James Burke, becoming the first African American to hold the post.
He was appointed an ADA in 1952 by former Queens DA T. Vincent Quinn, and subsequently was reappointed by Frank O’Connor in 1956 and Nat Hentel in 1966.
Banks, 50 and a Queens resident, is a 26-year veteran of the NYPD.
He rose through the ranks to command the 79th and 81st precincts in Brooklyn as well as the Central Park Precinct in Manhattan.
Banks had been serving as chief of the Community Affairs Bureau for two and a half years when he was appointed as Chief of Department by former Commissioner Ray Kelly in March of last year.
Brown lauded Banks for his efforts throughout his career to foster relationships between law enforcement and the community.
“Phil in one of the Finest of New York’s Finest,” Brown said.
Past recipients of the award include former Mayor David Dinkins, former Borough President Helen Marshall, Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Queens and Nassau), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, former Queens Administrative Judge Leslie Leach, and Queens County Executive Assistant District Attorney Jesse Sligh.
“The first thing I would like to say is simply this — thank you,” Banks said. “I am elated to be given the William Tucker Garvin Award.”
Paying tribute to Garvin’s family, Banks spoke with awe about the trails blazed by the former ADA in times when it would not have been easy for a black man.
“He graduated from St. John’s Law School in 1931 ... 1931!” he said.
Chief Banks then spoke a bit about his work with and on behalf of the city’s youth, which Brown’s office said included but is not limited to programs like Saturday Nights Lights Basketball, which brings children between the ages of 11 and 18 together at times and in neighborhoods that are at high risk for crime.
Bratton likened Banks’ life and career to the pioneering work and spirit of Garvin, which Banks in turn said made possible the work that is now being done in the city.
“If you had called and told me that I was just being considered for this award, I would have been honored,” Banks said.