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Rafael Pineiro almost was kicked out of the police academy decades ago.
Instructors pulled him out of class, and questioned his citizenship, according to news reports at the time. Pineiro, who was born in Cuba, just happened to have his naturalization papers handy, and put the issue to rest. What’s more, Pineiro graduated from the academy at the top of his class, receiving the Chief of Personnel’s Award for the highest academic and physical fitness scores.
Now, Pineiro is the one cop that leading Latino police groups want to see become the next commissioner when the next mayor takes over for Michael Bloomberg, according to the New York Daily News.
Pineiro currently holds the position of First Deputy Commissioner, so technically he's next in line. He would be the department’s first Latino commissioner. He helped oversee a rise in diversity in the police force. Pineiro has noted that the NYPD is about 25 percent Latino, a far cry from the less than 1 percent they constituted when he started.
"In this day and age, with stop, question and frisk, issues of profiling, I think having a Hispanic who understands what's going on in the community would actually benefit the citizens of this city," said Dennis Gonzales, president of the NYPD's Hispanic Society, according to the News.
Pineiro, a 40-year veteran of the department, boasts of reflecting the quintessential American Dream tale.
He came from Cuba with his family when he was 12, and excelled in school, completing a bachelor’s in science from the New York Institute of Technology, followed by a master’s in public administration from New York University. As if that wasn't enough, he also obtained a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.
Pineiro also completed a John B. Fellowship at Harvard University, and was part of the first class of the Police Management Institute at Columbia University, according to the city’s website.
"We don't recommend First Deputy Commissioner Pineiro simply because he's Latino," said Gonzales. "We recommended him because he has the credentials and the qualifications to lead the finest police department in the country."
Pineiro also has given back – he founded and served as the chairman of the National Law Enforcement Explorer Academy, which aims to teach leadership and team skills to youth between 14 and 20 years of age.
The Daily News notes that New York mayoral front-runner, Bill de Blasio, has expressed a preference for filling the commissioner’s slot, now occupied by Ray Kelly, with former Police Commissioner William Bratton or NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks.
The Republican challenger to de Blasio, Joe Lhota, appears to lean toward keeping Kelly.
Pineiro told NBC News that he is hopeful that the department will continue to attract Latino officers, which would be valuable in a city where the Latino community continues to grow.
"It lets me understand what people go through to get into this country," he said, according to NBC.