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NYPD’s Fahey: frank, to the fore

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

Dapper in his dark suit, white shirt and yellow tie, New York Police Department Deputy Chief Thomas Fahey marches into his office with the surefooted confidence of a veteran. He has, after all, been 35 years in the department.

In his gravely voice, he’s direct and to the point. "Spit it out, I’ve been around a while, I’ve thick skin," he said, anticipating a sensitive question.

For some time now, Fahey, who’s 57, and his colleagues in the department’s public information division, of which he’s commanding officer, have been answering some tough questions, even battling a perception in some quarters that the NYPD is cover for trigger-happy cops. Counteracting such perceptions is at the core of the public information division’s mission.

"The most important thing we do here is to get the stories of the men and women of the police department to the public," Fahey said. While he believes the public is generally supportive of the police, he said he thinks "certain people with agendas would like to spin things for their personal gains."

Which, of course, leads to the question of whether Fahey, too, is not in the business of spinning things for the NYPD’s gain. Lowering his head, coming eye-to-eye with the reporter across his desk, he slowly and softly bores in with an answer grounded in "the facts."

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"In 1990, with a much smaller force, we shot and killed 41 suspects. Last year, with a force of 41,000 police officers, we shot and killed 11 people. New York City has the most restrained police department in the United States and yet there has been an image created that this is a very out of control police department, which the facts do not support, and if that’s my job to put that spin out there, I will happily do it every day."

Much of Fahey’s work, and that of the public information division, involves dealing with mundane questions from journalists working on routine police stories. Every morning, police reporters, some of whom actually work from the second floor of NYPD headquarters, head for Fahey’s 13th floor division to review the piles of incident sheets that have accumulated during the night. Often, it’s the information on those sheets that alerts reporters to a story bigger than the essential details would suggest.

Fahey and his staff also keep on eye on what has been published or broadcast, ensuring reports are accurate from the police department’s view and, if necessary, seeking corrections.

Although he has served in many capacities for the NYPD, Fahey said his current job is the toughest. "When you’re in the narcotics or detective divisions, you can measure your achievements," he explained. Referring to the work of the public information division, he said it’s "a business where you never know the good you’ve done by getting the right information out or correcting some misrepresentation."

But Fahey has no doubt about the value of the work done by the people in his division.

"This office is very important to protect the reputation of the police department," he said.

Frankness is a word some reporters use to describe Fahey. "He’s a straight shooter, he’s not going to lie," said one. Said Fahey himself: "If you lie to people, they quickly find out and you serve no purpose."

Indeed, he recalls the time he wore a tie pin bearing his own initials, TF. One reporter, he said, joked that the letters stood for "Too Frank."

But if Fahey does not wish to talk about something, he can be frank about that too, particularly if he feels the subject is none of a reporter’s business.

"I try to speak my mind," he said.

Fahey is a native of Woodside, Queens. His father, Peter, came from Galway. His mother, Elizabeth Meaney, was from Clare.

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