Volume 74, Number 27 | November 10 - 16, 2004

New C.O. used to bust drug dealers in Washington Sq.

By Albert Amateau

Deputy Inspector Theresa Shortell, commanding officer of the Sixth Police Precinct since Oct. 11, is no stranger to the Village or to Chelsea.

“When I was a lieutenant in the Manhattan South Narcotics Squad, I was in charge of drug enforcement in the Sixth and 10th Precincts,” she told a visitor last week. “We worked all over Chelsea and the Village, a lot in Washington Sq. Park,” she said, recalling her assignment five years ago.

At 5-foot-3-inches tall, blonde and slender, Shortell doesn’t appear to be the typical narcotics cop, but the appearance is deceiving and “extraordinary” rather than “typical” would be a better description of her energy and commitment to the New York Police Department. Currently, she is the only woman precinct commander in the city.

“I used to buy drugs for a living as an undercover,” she said. A year and a half after becoming a police officer, she applied for narcotics duty, “to further my career,” she said, noting, “I looked like I was15 or 16 years old at the time.” In September 1989, after less than five years with the N.Y.P.D., she became a sergeant in the Brooklyn North Narcotics Unit.

As a memento of that era, she has a photo of herself and another woman police officer struggling with a 6-foot-4-inch suspect in Brooklyn’s 75th Precinct covering East New York — a photo that appeared several years ago in “Stern,” a German magazine.

Promoted to captain in April 2001, she became executive officer of the 105th Precinct in Queens and then went on to become commanding officer of Transit District 20 in Queens before gaining her first precinct command two years ago at the 94th Precinct, which covers Williamsburg.

“I have more than 20 years in the department and I’m going to have 20 more,” Shortell, 42, told her visitor last week, adding, “I love the work. It’s all good.”

Born in Flatbush, she was raised in a family with eight kids. “My mother died when I was 3, leaving my father with four children, 1 1/2, 3, 5 and 6. He was 28. He married a woman with three kids and they had one together. It was a great way to grow up — most of the kids were pretty close in age” she recalled.

“I learned my work ethic from my father and my stepmother,” she added. Her father worked as a supermarket stock clerk before becoming a firefighter and is now retired. One brother is a police officer in the Midtown South Precinct and a cousin is an inspector in the Bronx Narcotics Squad.

Shortell has a master’s degree from Marist College in Poughkeepsie. Last year, the department selected her as one of 15 precinct commanders to attend a program in which students spend one week a month for a year at the Precinct Management Institute, which Columbia University runs near West Point. “The instructors really knew what they were talking about. One guy was the arbitrator who settled the Broadway theater dispute,” she recalled.

In 1999, Shortell attended the F.B.I. Academy in Quantico, Va., for a three-month course attended by 250 police officers from all over the world. “They were from Africa, Europe, China, New Zealand — it was very interesting and I didn’t lack attention — there were only 14 women among them,” Shortell said. “I was from New York, which was a big deal, and they all wanted to hear my New York accent — they’d buy me beers,” she added.

Shortell is honored that the N.Y.P.D. chose her to take those courses. “I love the job and they invested in me,” she said.

In the past month, Shortell has been making the rounds of Village block associations, meetings of the Sixth Precinct Community Council and more. She has met with Councilmember Christine Quinn and attended events held by groups, including Caring Community. She’s well on her way to knowing by name all the Sixth Precinct officers in her command. “I’ll learn them all. I knew every officer in the 94th,” she said.

Shortell lives on Long Island but believes in spending a lot of time in her command — it can run 12 to 15 hours a day. “I do go home sometimes,” she said. Shortell keeps in trim by working out everyday wherever she can, especially by running in the neighborhood.

“Community is very important to me,” Shortell said, noting that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had told her that he thought she would be a “perfect fit” as C.O. of the Sixth, “because it’s a very community-oriented precinct.”

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