Deputy Inspector William Gallagher will be NYPD aide to the grand marshal in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. [Photo by Peter McDermott]

Officer of the law

A cop eating a pizza.

It may be a commonplace sight, but in the context a vivid one that has stayed long in the memory.

It’s a Bronx scene that Deputy Inspector William Gallagher believes had an impact on the course that his life would take.

He has witnessed a lot in a distinguished police career, most notably the heroism of 9/11, when he was still new to the force. But there have been other moments of heightened drama, like the time he was asked to intervene as a young life ebbed away.

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“It’s always interesting. Even when it’s quiet,” said Gallagher, a lawyer who very recently transferred from his role as commanding officer of the 19th Precinct based at East 67th Street to being commanding officer of the New York Police Department’s Legal Bureau. 

The Bronx story takes him back to his early teens and the apartment where his mother Margaret still lives, a high-rise at Broadway and 238th Street, in St. Gabriel’s Parish. 

“I was sitting in my room,” Gallagher recalled. “And there was a guy in the building next to me going to jump. There were cops all over the place.”

The drama played out for more than four hours.

“I could hear a little bit of it,” he said.  “I remember this cop talking this guy down from the ledge.”

Soon after the distressed man had been dragged back to safety, the young Gallagher was sent on an errand to the store, and that’s when he spotted in a pizzeria the officer who’d done the talking and led the rescue.

“He was eating his pizza as if nothing had happened. He was calm, cool and collected,” he said. “I was very impressed by that.”

There would be other forces that pushed the graduate of Xavier High School on Manhattan’s West 16th Street and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia towards a police career. The general Irish Catholic tradition in law enforcement was one; family members’ enthusiastic support another.

His brother Tommy led the way by becoming an agent in the ATF. And at one point, Bill Gallagher had four cousins serving in the NYPD – Kevin McKeon, Vinny McKeon, Tom Gallagher and Patrick Gallagher. 

But there was also the model of his father’s service. Walter Gallagher joined the United States Marines Corps at age 17 during World War II. 

The elder Gallagher was a “very good man, a very devout Catholic” and a fan of President Harry S. Truman, said his son. The former telephone company employee died at age 94 in early 2022.

Like his dad before him, Officer Gallagher found himself in the maelstrom of history. He was in his second year in the NYPD and on duty in the Bronx when planes were deliberately crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It was Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001. He and a fellow officer were standing outside a bodega when ordered to commandeer a bus on Fordham Road. They found one and the passengers complied with the request that they disembark. 

“Everybody knew that this was really serious,” said Gallagher, who will serve as NYPD aide to the grand marshal at Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

After other officers were picked up, the bus traveled to Worth Street in Downtown Manhattan.

“The dust was everywhere,” Gallagher recalled. “You could barely see.

“The amount of bravery that occurred down there was unbelievable. It was tremendous.”

A little over six years later when a sergeant, he was involved in a drama that didn’t shake the world, but did make the local papers. It happened in Polo Grounds Towers in Harlem, when he and his team responded to the cardiac arrest of a baby who was just five days old. “The mom was visibly upset and the baby was turning blue,” Gallagher recalled.

“Thank God, you’re here!” she told him.

A report about the event in the Daily News of Jan. 1, 2008, was entitled “Hero cop gives baby back life.”

It began, “A sickly baby born on Christmas Day will live to see her first New Year’s after quick-thinking cops resuscitated the tot Monday.”

It continued later, “Gallagher had never performed CPR in his eight years with the NYPD, but the training came back.

“’For whatever reason, it popped in my head – and it worked,’ Gallagher said. He held the baby, and gently performed the CPR used on infants – until the baby started crying.”

“’That was one of the greatest sounds,’ he said. ‘The last, last thing you want … is have a baby die in your arms.’”

The News reported that the baby and her 36-year-old mother were doing well in Harlem Hospital. 

“That’s memorable because I literally had a child’s life in my hands,” Gallagher said in 2024. “And I’m very thankful that it worked.”

He reflected on it a little more and said, “It’s the most memorable moment. I’m proud that that happened.”

He’s grateful that’s as traumatic as it’s gotten and that the outcome was a happy one. Even now, he said, he can get emotional talking about it.

Gallagher’s previous stints in the legal side have proven a diverting change of pace – for instance, his time as an instructor on a well-regarded homicide investigation course.

The graduate of New York Law School reported that the Legal Bureau’s responsibilities cover “criminal, civil, training and legislative” areas.

 “In the Legal Bureau you’re doing training for the entire department,” said Gallagher, whose four grandparents were Irish immigrants. “You’re providing advice to the entire department.”

The police department’s website says: “The NYPD Legal Bureau serves a multitude of critical functions including interpreting state, federal, and local laws; ensuring that the policies and practices of the Department are lawful and are fairly applied; helping to develop legislation to support public safety; and furthering the quality of life of New Yorkers and visitors through the focused use of civil enforcement remedies.”

“I’m very much enjoying it,” he said of his new role, in which he serves under a civilian deputy commissioner for legal matters, Michael Gerber. “It’s definitely different. I’m now in a suit, essentially practicing law.”

In contrast to the current job with its focus on the entire department, as the precinct commanding officer he was concerned with “day-to-day operations, day-to-day response to crime, day-to-day investigations.”

“I think it’s good to be a practicing police officer and then go to the Legal Bureau. When I’m talking to a police officer I very much understand any issues that they have,” said Gallagher, who lives in Pearl River and likes to spend his free time with his wife, Colleen, and their 15-, 12- and 10-year-old children, and also to watch the Yankees.

“At the end of the day, police officers are no different than any other human being,” he said. “Sometimes people look at a police officer and not really recognize their humanity. Because they have the blue suit, the gun, the badge.

“Behind a very iconic uniform is a human being who joins the police department to help people. Because we’re certainly not millionaires,” he said. “It’s a calling, in some ways.”

Gallagher has worked the night shift, holidays and weekends, and like many colleagues considers that a “sacrifice for the public good.” 

On Sept. 30 last, the 19th Precinct participated in a street co-naming on Second Avenue at 67th Street to commemorate Patrolman William McAuliffe, a few feet from where he was gunned down by an unknown assailant on the night of March 18, 1916. The popular and respected officer was a native of County Cork. 

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Gallagher said at the time, in reference to the fact that many of the officers under his command were immigrants from other countries.

Often the change is more obvious than the continuity. The New York Times, hours after his murder, reported, “At 9:53, McAuliffe called the station from the police telephone box at Sixty-eighth Street and Second Avenue.”

There were, of course, technological changes between 1916 and 2000, when Gallagher joined the department. They’ve been dramatic in the years since, however, and as an example he cited the innovation whereby officers read the text of 911 calls on their phones.

As for continuity, police officers are still on the front line.

But in the extended clan, he’s the only one who remains -- his brother and cousins have moved on. He has no plans to join them.

Deputy Inspector Gallagher said, “I’m not going anywhere.”