NEW YORK CITY — Chief of Police Joseph Esposito, the police department's longest-serving and highest-ranking uniformed officer, will retire from the NYPD on Wednesday after more than 44 years of service.
Esposito, who entered the NYPD as a police trainee in August 1968, began his career in the 77th precinct in Brooklyn and went on to hold every uniformed rank in the department, including serving more than 12 years as chief of department, where he oversaw daily police operations through some of the department's most challenging times.
"He's done a phenomenal job," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Tuesday, noting that he'd first appointed Esposito the commander of the 34th Precinct in 1993 during his first stint as commissioner.
Esposito said that serving as chief of police was the highlight of his career, but that he'd always looked forward to going to work.
"Getting up and coming to work every day. Nothing was better," he said before his final day on the job.
"You know, I live near the train station in Brooklyn, and every day I get up and I look at that train and I say, 'How many of those people are looking forward to getting where they're going?
"I'm so blessed that every day I get up and I'm going to a job that I love to do. I haven't worked a day in 44-and-a-half years."
According to the NYPD's rules, all uniformed officers must retire at the age of 63 — clearly a rule that Esposito wished didn't apply.
"Standing here today, I wish I had a couple more years to go, to be honest with you. But that's not what's in the cards," he said. "I don't make the law, I just follow it."
He seemed amazed at how much the department had changed since he started, a time when the city was rife with crime.
"Just think of how professional it has become since those days," he said. "This is the most professional agency in the world, technology, proactive crime fighting," he said.
"We went from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. That sums it up."
As for challenges for the future, he pointed to the recent proposal to create an NYPD inspector general as a troubling sign.
"Everybody wants to look over our shoulder," he said. "I think we're doing a phenomenal job, professional job. And our critics still want to take shots at us. It just seemed like we're damned if we do and we're damned if we don't sometimes."
Esposito — whose name has been floated as a potential candidate to replace Kelly as commissioner under the next mayor — said that he hadn't made any plans for the future yet, and would wait to see what came along.
"He's had a remarkable career," Kelly said. "We're going to miss him."
Before his current post, Esposito also served as commanding officer of the 66th and 83rd precincts, and the Strategic and Tactical Command, where he was in charge of all patrol, housing, narcotics and detective operations in the Brooklyn North area.
"As Chief of Department, he has managed the NYPD's response to some of the greatest challenges that it has ever faced, from the terrorist attack on 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during a ceremony celebrating the re-opening of the renovated Central Park precinct building.
He also earned some of the department's highest distinctions, including the Combat Cross, Medal of Valor for confronting armed suspects, Bloomberg said.