Inspector Michael Cochrane spent about 11 years sporting the shiny black jacket, fitted Navy blue pants and patent leather riding boots of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Highway Patrol, first as an officer then later as the unit’s commanding officer.
Those two stints account for a little more than one-third of Cochrane’s 32-year career, yet the Mayfair native and recently appointed Northeast patrol division commander may forever be remembered for his association with the police department’s hard-charging, motorcycle-riding tactical force.
His family surely pictures him that way.
“They had tears in their eyes the day I was promoted,” Cochrane said, explaining that his promotion last April from captain to inspector signaled the end of his days with Highway Patrol.
The unit had become an extended family for Cochrane’s wife, Jane, and their three teenage daughters, who grew up seeing a more-sensitive side of the edgy-looking crimefighters.
“They were saying, ‘We’re gonna miss all those guys,’” Cochrane recalled.
Nonetheless, his promotion also enabled his eventual return to his old neighborhood. Last month, Commissioner Charles Ramsey named Cochrane Northeast Division commander as part of a large-scale restructuring and reshuffling of the police department’s command staff. Joining Cochrane at division headquarters were Capts. Frank Palumbo and John McCloskey, the new top cops in the 2nd and 15th districts, respectively.
All three new appointees work out of the police station at Harbison Avenue and Levick Street in Mayfair.
THE BIG THREE
Cochrane, 54, replaced Inspector John Heath, who served eight years and three months in the job. Heath was reassigned to the Special Operations bureau. Palumbo, 43, replaced Capt. Mike McCarrick, who served seven years and three months in the 2nd, was promoted to inspector and now commands the East Division. McCloskey, 56, succeeded Capt. Frank Bachmayer, who spent six years and three months in the 15th and was reassigned to the Narcotics Strike Force.
Cochrane brings a wealth of patrol and administrative experience into his new role. A 1977 Father Judge High School graduate, he began his police career in 1981 as a beat cop and worked more than six years in the 14th district, covering Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. After that, he served three years and four months as a member of the Highway Patrol, a unit that specializes in supporting patrol officers in the city’s high-crime areas.
He thrived on the action.
“I loved it. I worked all over the city with the best cops in the city,” he said.
He spent one brief spell, about four months, on a detail in the 2nd district before returning to Highway.
Later, he served as a sergeant in the 9th district (Center City) and a lieutenant in the 26th district (Fishtown, Kensington, North Philadelphia).
Then-Deputy Commissioner Thomas Nestel hired Cochrane for his administrative staff. Cochrane credits Nestel for “shaping” his career.
“He was in charge of the administrative end of the police department. It’s a side of the police department a lot of people never see,” Cochrane said.
He learned about budgets, training, facilities management and equipping the police force. He interacted with the many non-police professionals who help the department function. Cochrane stayed with Nestel for eight years until the deputy’s 2004 retirement.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
By then, Cochrane had been promoted to captain. Coincidentally, Nestel’s son Thomas was promoted to inspector that year and vacated the commander’s job in Highway Patrol. Cochrane was positioned to fill the void.
Now, following Cochrane’s own promotion to inspector, he finds himself back where he began.
“It’s not the division I remember when I was a police officer here in 1988,” he said. “It’s a very busy division now. There are pockets in the 15th and 2nd (districts) with violent crime issues. Inspector Heath in eight years did an excellent job here and he had initiatives here that were good — tactical things to address crime concerns in certain areas. I’m going to keep them.”
Although violent crime is more isolated in the Northeast than in some other sections of the city, the Northeast is second to none in volume of crime. It is the largest division geographically, spanning from the Tacony-Frankford Creek in the southwest to the Poquessing Creek in the Far Northeast, and from the Delaware River to the Montgomery County border.
Property crimes like burglary and theft, along with “quality of life” issues such as disorderly crowds and graffiti, account for most of the complaints to police in the Northeast, according to Cochrane.
“There are a lot of things new to me, but there are a lot of things old hat to me,” he said. “I know the streets and I know the neighborhoods.”
In Palumbo and McCloskey, the inspector will work with one relatively new captain and one experienced one. McCloskey attended St. Cecilia’s School in Fox Chase and graduated from Cardinal Dougherty in 1974. He has spent his entire 35-year career in patrol assignments.
McCloskey has worked all over the city, including a five-year stint in the 15th district in the 1980s. He served as the longtime commander of the 35th district in the department’s Northwest Division until September, when Ramsey suspended him and took away his command for allegedly helping to cover up the March arrest of a retired police captain’s grandson.
According to a report in July by the Daily News, two 35th district officers arrested the grandson in connection with a felony assault on police. McCloskey’s then-boss, Inspector Aaron Horne, subsequently asked McCloskey to help erase the charges from the department’s computer system, which the captain did.
Ramsey ultimately suspended both Horne and McCloskey without pay for 30 days. It was the stiffest punishment permitted under department regulations short of firing. After his suspension, McCloskey worked in the Command Inspections Bureau. Palumbo filled in at the 35th on an interim basis until both captains got their new assignments last month.
When asked by the Northeast Times about the case, McCloskey said that as captain in the 35th, it was his prerogative to approve or override arrests made by his subordinate officers. He declined to discuss details of the case.
Despite the circumstances, community leaders in the 35th district were disappointed to see him go. About 75 residents attended a rally to support him. Longtime Town Watch head Rose Holloway reportedly told the Daily News, “I [worked] under a lot of captains, and Capt. McCloskey stands out the most. He was always there for us.”
ldquo;He’s been the ultimate community engager and ambassador. He’s always there for us,” said Eric Brice, another Town Watch officer.
McCloskey hopes to have the same relationship with folks in the 15th district.
“I want to have better communication between people and the officers on the street,” he said. “I want to have officers be friendly and listen to people. The biggest thing for police officers is to listen to people. All complaints are major to the person making the complaint.”
Palumbo is a South Philadelphia native with 21 years of police service. He lives in the Northeast now, however, and feels at home here. He has no relation to the legendary South Philadelphia restaurateur and political figure or to the Common Pleas Court judge, both of whom share his name.
“I’ve also been mistaken for Lieutenant Columbo,” he said.
Palumbo says he’d prefer to work in a “busier” district over a low-crime, quieter one.
“[The 15th] is busier now than we are, but the lower ends of both districts are the busiest. The north ends have less violent crime,” he said.
Palumbo wants to get ahead of the property crime curve by educating people about how thefts happen and how they can protect themselves and their possessions.
For instance, crooks seem to be targeting cell phones and GPS devices a lot more than jewelry nowadays. Those devices should be protected accordingly.
“Everybody has technology in their hands,” he said. “I don’t think I took one report in three months [in the 35th district] of someone having their [neck] chain snatched.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or email@example.com