First Deputy Commissioner Rafael Pineiro is the highest-ranking Hispanic in the New York Police Department -- in the NYPD hierarchy he falls just under Commissioner Ray Kelly. And his long trip to the top of the NYPD leadership starts in Communist Cuba where he fled with his family at age 12.
"We were only allowed to carry three cigar boxes actually, so we could sell them at the airport," said Pineiro. "You weren't allowed to take any money any jewelry any valuable possessions. We basically got here penniless."
The family moved in with a relative into a Brooklyn Heights studio. Across the street classes were about to start at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School. Pineiro and his sister, at first, were turned away because the classrooms were full.
"There was an Irish-American priest who spoke fluent Spanish who called us back and actually brought two desks back into the classroom to sit in the classroom,” remembers Pineiro.
Six years later he entered the police academy -- and almost did not become a police officer.
“They pulled me out of class and they said we've looked at your folder and we understand you may not be a citizen yet,” said Pineiro, who actually had a copy of the certificate of citizenship on him. “I had gotten it a week prior and I actually showed it to the sergeant and I was allowed to remain in the class."
Over the years Pineiro rose through the ranks. He got a law degree, commanded the Bronx and even attended Harvard. He became Chief of Personnel then Deputy Commissioner and oversaw a major change at the NYPD. The department now looks much different than we he started.
"Twenty-five percent, 26 percent of the force is Hispanic right now back then less than one percent," said Pineiro.
But he admits the problem the NYPD has now is not enough officers at all, something he's addressed in public and says could have some connection to an increase in the crime rate this year.
"We've had a tremendous decrease crime in the last eighth years," he noted. "There's no question about that we've had some rough spots no question possibly we could use more people. No question about it. We've tried to compensate our loss in manpower by the technological improvements Ray Kelly has brought about with the real time crime center."
He defends the controversial stop and frisk policy that some say promotes targeting his fellow Hispanics along with blacks.
"I believe in it's an effective policy," he said.
And as Hispanics grow in numbers in New York Pineiro thinks that will be mirrored in the NYPD. An advantage he's seen first hand.
“It lets me understand what people go through to get into this country," he said.