By Sonya Rehman
Deputy Inspector Kathleen O’Reilly of precinct 24 in Manhattan cuts a smart figure. She likes running marathons, and it shows. O’Reilly is a petite, slim and highly energetic woman who wears her blond hair cropped short and favors outfits like today’s clean-cut grey suit and pink blouse.
Born in 1969 to Irish immigrant parents who had settled in Queens, O’Reilly lived in New York City for five years before moving back to England with her family in 1974. “I lived in England for 15 years,” she says. “I went to high school and college in England and then moved back to the United States and applied to the police department. It was the only job I ever really wanted to do.”
Growing up O’Reilly took inspiration from ‘Cagney and Lacey’ – an American television series which starred two female cops. “I always wanted to be Cagney”, says O’Reilly smiling wistfully. “You know, all my high school buddies, they all knew this was the job I always wanted. I always wanted to be a cop and I get to live my dream.”
O’Reilly got hired by the NYPD in April, 1981, and spent the majority of her career in Manhattan North (59th street north to 215th street, starting out in the housing police department. “I really enjoyed my career in housing – I was very active as a police officer and I was lucky enough to get promoted as Sergeant.” Her next move was to Police Headquarters in the office of Management Analysis and Planning.
“I did 2 years there and eventually got promoted to lieutenant and worked in the Manhattan Warrant Squad – that covers the whole of Manhattan,” she said.
During her tenure there, O’Reilly tracked down fugitives, and after 9/11, she was assigned to the ‘Family Center’ where she worked for three months – providing assistance to the family’s victims and gathering DNA of the victims. “I really felt that the officers and the detectives who were working for me in the warrant squad contributed a lot to ease the pain and suffering for the families,” she said.
In February 2003 O’Reilly got promoted to Captain, and served 3 years in Hamilton Heights (the 30 precinct). “I was lucky enough to get nominated to be a commanding officer”, she says, “There are only 76 precincts city-wide and currently I think there are only two precinct commanders…so at the time there was only one other female precinct commander and when I got nominated I got the Central Park precinct and I remember speaking to the borough commander at the time and said ‘I can’t work here, I’m gonna die of boredom – nothing happens at Central Park – I need to be in a crime-fighting action place!’”
But soon after O’Reilly realized that it was a “wonderful” career move. After 11 months at the Central Park precinct, she came to 24 precinct where O’Reilly’s been for three years now, managing a team of over 200 officers, sergeants, lieutenants, and civilian personnel.
What’s interesting about the 24 precinct is its regular community meetings. “At the meetings I always give out my personal cell phone number and my email address and tell them that the person that cries and complains the most is going to get my attention! My cell phone is on 24 hours a day – even on Saturdays and Sundays,” she said.
Considering how male-dominated the NYPD is, did O’Reilly face any challenges or discrimination when she initially started out? “No, not really”, she answers, “I’ve spoken to some of my female counterparts and they have felt discrimination being a female on the job. I’ve never felt that way. I’m confident in my ability and if you know what you’re doing and you know your job and you’re good at your job, I think that takes away the stereotype that you can’t do or you’re not able to do your job. When I talk to my supervisors, I tell them; it’s nice to be liked, but it’s more important to be respected.”
A big believer in enhancing ones skills continuously, O’Reilly attended the Police Management Institute of Columbia University, where she learned management skills during the 8-week course. “Since that time I went back to John Jay College and got my Masters in Criminal Justice. I always encourage my cops to go back to school to further their education.”
For women wanting to become police officers, O’Reilly believes there’s nothing you can’t do if you really put your heart and mind to it. “When I started out in housing as a police officer I was very intimidated by the Lieutenant behind the desk”, she says, “He was a surly kind of a guy – a very intimidating person and I always said to myself that maybe someday I can be a Sergeant. I never dreamed that I was going to become a Sergeant, a Lieutenant, a Captain and now a Deputy Inspector – which is an appointment by the city…I tell my cops you have to have work ethic, you have to be willing to work.”
Class assignment – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism