Highest-ranking Hispanic in the New York Police Department Shares His American Dream with Campus Community

On Oct. 29, Rafael Pineiro, first deputy commissioner, visited campus as part of Manhattan College’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

More than 200 members of the College and greater community gathered in Smith Auditorium on Oct. 29 to hear First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro discuss his distinguished career and Hispanic heritage.

The event, which included a free fully catered Latin American style lunch, was held as part of the College’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and was sponsored by the Diversity Committee, Public Safety, Alumni Relations and Manhattan College Latino Alumni Club.

Pineiro said he overcame obstacles and made it to the top of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) through a lot of study and hard work. 

“I have a lot of pride as somebody who came [to the U.S.] at the age of 12, not speaking much English, and I stand here today with three [academic] degrees and can say I was given the opportunity to do this,” Pineiro said.

"I stand here today with three [academic] degrees and can say I was given the opportunity to do this."

He holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from New York Institute of Technology, a master's degree in management from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and a Juris Doctor from Brooklyn Law School. He is also a graduate of the original Police Management Institute at Columbia University.

Born in Spain and raised in Cuba, Pineiro attended a Christian Brothers school through sixth grade. He said he still remembers his last school day in Cuba when the militia arrived to assume control of the education system. In pursuit of opportunity, he and his family immigrated to the U.S. the following year in 1961.

Pineiro was appointed to the New York City Police Department in June 1970, at a time when there were practically no Hispanics in the NYPD. In fact, there were roughly 300 uniformed Hispanics out of a force of about 32,000, and the highest-ranking Hispanic was a lieutenant.

“There were no Hispanic captains, no Hispanic inspectors, no Hispanic chiefs,” he said, adding that at that time, most Hispanics were assigned to narcotics divisions doing undercover work. But Pineiro paved his own path through education and determination.

He graduated at the top of his police academy class, and received the Chief of Personnel’s Award for the highest combined academic and physical fitness scores. He began his career on patrol in the 88th Precinct and was quickly promoted from sergeant in July 1981, to lieutenant in May 1984, captain in January 1988, deputy inspector in November 1989, inspector in October 1990, deputy chief in September 1991, assistant chief in February 1994, chief of personnel in 2002 and to first deputy commissioner in 2010.

“I believe in America,” Pineiro said. “I came here with nothing — no friends, no connections, nothing — and just through sheer force of will, hard work, and belief in the goodness of the people of the city and of this country, was able to achieve what I wanted to achieve.”