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NYPD chief of detectives calls it a career

After 35 years as a police officer, Robert Boyce, by law, must retire.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce at One

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce at One Police Plaza in Manhattan on Thursday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

As NYPD chief of detectives, Robert Boyce’s day usually started before sunrise when a department vehicle would pull up to his Nassau County home to take him to Manhattan.

The driver of the day — either Dets. Steve Hunter or Bob Schulman — would hand Boyce a stack of computer printouts containing the overnight crime reports, and off they’d drive into the emerging dawn.

Starting Tuesday, Boyce begins a new routine. No more early morning drives to Manhattan or crime summaries. After 35 years as a cop and more than four as chief of detectives, Boyce hits the mandatory retirement age of 63 this week and is reluctantly calling it a career.

If he had a choice, Boyce would stay a top cop for years to come. Boyce has been a very public face in the NYPD since 2014, when then-Commissioner William Bratton tapped him to command the NYPD’s more than 6,000 detectives. But the law says he has to go.

“I liken it to pulling a ‘Thelma and Louise’ and driving off a cliff — all of a sudden it is just over,” Boyce said, referencing the abrupt ending of the iconic 1991 road film.

Boyce is staying as long as possible. His career will end Monday at about 2 p.m. with the traditional ceremonial walkout from police headquarters. His successor is Chief Dermot Shea.

To be sure, Boyce will have another gig after retirement, although he didn’t want to reveal it. Some travel and vacation with his wife, Kathleen, whom he met while both were in the police academy, are also in the plans. He asked for security reasons that the couple’s exact hometown on Long Island not be identified. A daughter Caitlin is a court officer and son Robert a nurse.

During an interview in his office, Boyce said he is leaving the NYPD with a sense of fulfillment, having been at the helm during a period of unprecedented crime decline, major investigations into ghastly homicides and three terror attacks.

Earlier this month at Boyce’s last monthly crime briefing, Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded him and his “extraordinary focus on finding the truth.”

“What I saw, he never took the easy way, he was always looking for the facts, even if they were elusive, even if it was going to take more time, he looked for the truth wherever it was,” de Blasio said. “That driving spirit, that willingness to dig and dig again, led to so much success.”

Although widely hailed by de Blasio and others for the job he has done, Boyce had to push back in the end against some criticism about the way his office handled sex crimes.

A recent report by the city Department of Investigation said the NYPD’s Special Victims Division was understaffed for years and shortchanging some victims. At a City Council hearing on the matter, the normally mild-mannered Boyce seemed irritated when some council members interrupted him.

“It was a little disrespectful by members of the City Council, not many, only two [members],” Boyce said. “But I have a tough skin, I have been around 35 years in very tough neighborhoods in the city, so you don’t get rankled by that.”

Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens), chair of the public safety committee, said Sunday that while the NYPD brass may have thought the tone of the hearing was disrespectful, he took it as the council being assertive and passionate.

“At the end of the day the disrespect is not on our side but on treatment afforded the victims,” Richards said.

Going forward Richards said he’d like to see better training in the Special Victims Division, appropriate staffing levels and adequate facilities to interview victims.

Boyce agreed that more resources are needed, but disputed critics’ assertions that the sex crimes investigators didn’t have enough training.

“They are the most trained detectives I have,” Boyce said.

Boyce started as an officer in the 24th Precinct in Manhattan in 1983, where his first arrest was a purse snatcher. A meteoric rise through commands all over the city followed.

Bratton recalled that Deputy Commissioner John Miller recommended he consider Boyce. After a two-hour meeting at Neary’s restaurant in early 2014, Bratton said he believed Boyce was the man to rebuild morale in the detective division and offered him the job.

“I was not proven wrong at all, he turned out to be extraordinary,” Bratton said.

Among the many cases, Boyce said the killing of Karina Vetrano in August 2016 stood out for the way dogged police work paid off. Boyce actually walked the crime scene many times. In February 2017, Chanel Lewis, 20, of East New York was arrested for the Vetrano slaying. The case is pending.

Boyce recently interviewed for the police commissioner jobs in Nassau and Suffolk counties, but isn’t bitter about not getting either, he said. Still, the NYPD is the biggest show in town, he said.

“I told you, I like being a cop,” Boyce said ruefully. “It is tough to walk away from.”

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