Not to embarrass his parents, who still live in Jamaica, but Chief of Department Rodney Harrison of the NYPD acknowledges there might be some place in or around Rochdale Village where he wrote or carved his initials as a child in a place where they might still be found.
“Probably at PS 80. Probably at the playground,” he reflected Sunday. “That’s where my friends and I played basketball, stickball ... I’ll just say we were active.”
Harrison this past Sunday was just across the street from Rochdale, speaking during services at the New Jerusalem Worship Center led by Bishop Calvin Rice, the congregation’s pastor. It was less than two weeks after he accepted the position as the top uniformed police officer in the NYPD.
The 29-year veteran had been serving as chief of detectives when he was appointed on March 30.
Speaking with the Chronicle after Sunday’s services, the four-star chief said it was far from preordained that he would ever join New York’s Finest, let along be chosen to lead them.
“I had never had a positive interaction with the police,” Harrison said of growing up in Jamaica. He had even gone to Springfield College in Massachusetts with the idea of becoming an athletic director.
He had come back home and transferred to York College in Jamaica when his father suggested he consider the NYPD’s Cadet Corps program as a way to help finance his tuition.
It was there, watching and working with police officers, that Harrison found what would be his calling.
“I saw that police officers were dedicated to helping people in the community,” he said.
He enlisted in the Police Academy and was appointed as an officer in 1992, with the aim of improving the relationships between the department and the city’s youth.
Harrison also took on what he said is “absolutely” the most dangerous job in the department — that of an undercover narcotics detective.
“In 1995 my partner was shot in a buy-and-bust operation,” Harrison said. Both officers were awarded the Combat Cross, the NYPD’s second-highest decoration. His partner, Michael Stoney, was forced to retire because of his injuries.
Harrison was promoted to sergeant in 1996 and lieutenant in 2002. Those promotions were followed by captain (2007), deputy inspector (2011), inspector (2013) and deputy chief (2016).
Harrison has served in all five boroughs, including as the commanding officer of the 28th and 32nd precincts in Harlem. He served as chief of patrol in 2018, and had been serving as chief of detectives since 2019 when he was appointed to chief of department by Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Sitting in his home neighborhood, Harrison said it still stings just a little bit more when he receives a report about a shooting incident or murder in the Rochdale co-ops, or nearby projects such as the New York City Housing Authority’s Baisley Park or South Jamaica Houses.
“We have to deal with the gun problem,” he said. “It’s not just a police problem. It’s a community problem.” He said every agency that can assist must be involved.
During the best of times in the city, the post of chief of department by definition is one in which the burdens and responsibilities always will outweigh the privileges.
Harrison is taking over during a trying period for the city and the NYPD. And the man who was determined to give the city’s youth a better experience with police than he had when he was growing up also had no thoughts about shying away.
“It’s not a headache —it’s a challenge,” he said. “I’m getting the chance to lead the men and women of the greatest police force in the world through these times ... It’s a gift from God.”