We recently learned of the passing of a man who helped transform NYPD after 9/11 – and in doing so, made America a safer place. We also realized there was almost no media coverage of his passing. Today… we change that.
On Saturday November 2nd, 2019 Vincent James “Jim” Onalfo passed away peacefully in his sleep. While his name may not sound familiar to you, his accomplishments and contributions to the world of law enforcement and information technology should.
Onalfo, a Connecticut native was born in Waterbury, and moved to Ridgefield. He met the love of his life Linda while they both attended school at the University of Connecticut.
After marrying Linda, Onalfo went on to proudly serve his country in the U.S. Army as a captain in Korea.
Upon his return to the States from his service in the military Onalfo built his career to become a prestigious and respected information technology business executive. His first career saw 29 years with General Foods and Kraft.
His last role with Kraft was Chief Information Officer, followed by a position as CIO for Stanley Works.
After a solid 30-year career in the IT world, Onalfo made the decision to take a well-deserved retirement. However, it wasn’t long before opportunity came in search of this information technology guru.
As reported by Computer World during his retirement Onalfo received a phone call in 2003 from IBM executive Nicholas Donofrio. During the call Donofrio asked Onalfo if he might be interested in an information technology role with the New York City Police Department.
Reportedly “Donofrio and former IBM CEO Louis Gerstner had both been contacted by [than] Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who needed to upgrade what had been an underinvested area for many years.”
Knowing the expertise that Onalfo brought to the table, Donofrio and Gerstner knew they needed to encourage him to consider coming out of retirement to help change the outdated and fast aging NYPD system.
Shortly after Onalfo received the phone call from Donofrio he accepted the position with the department as deputy commissioner and the first ever Chief Information Officer of the NYPD under then Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Raymond Kelly.
According to CIO.com Commissioner Kelly, had referred to the NYPD’s old IT infrastructure as murky, stove piped and underfunded.
“We’ve always been challenged as far as IT is concerned,” Kelly had told CIO.com in 2006. As large as the NYPD was, they struggled at the time to find a shining star within the organization that could revitalize the dated systems that were in place. As Kelly explain, “IT didn’t have that overarching authority.”
In his tenure with the department Onalfo over saw a 325-member IT department, which served 51,000-members of the NYPD.
According to CIO.com, upon Onalfo’s arrival on his first day “he discovered that the department lacked an adequate disaster recovery plan with redundancy and backup sites—20 months after 9/11.
If, say, there had been a fire in one of the precincts and it torched the computers, officers wouldn’t have been able to process criminals within the 24-hour time frame established by state law.”
“I almost left the same day I got here because I didn’t want to be responsible for that,” Onalfo told CIO.com in 2006. Thankfully Onalfo chose to stick it out, and the IT for the NYPD would never be the same.
“The department never reached out to non-law enforcement folks to man high positions in the department,” Kelly told CIO.com in 2006. “But it was clear, certainly post-9/11, that we needed some big-league help.” And that help came in the form of Onalfo.
Even though he did not come from a government of law enforcement background, Onalfo was able to get the routine down of how things operated in One Police Plaza. As explained by CIO.com he needed to adjust to ‘the politics, vendor selection regulations and the generally slower pace of public-sector entities.’
During his time with the NYPD Onalfo was the key to programs such as a new disaster recovery plan, a revamped communications system, the addition of added computers and handhelds to precincts across the city and most notably the Real Time Crime Center (RTCC).
The Real Time Crime Center, which is still in existence today, is a facility that is staffed 24/7 and gives real time information to detectives and officers on the beat throughout New York City. It is a key tool that is utilized to cut down on crime patterns and to prevent crimes from occurring.
According to a 2015 Wikipedia article,
“RTCC data sources include a data warehouse in which billions of records are made available to detectives and other officers within minutes, instead of days or weeks. These include:
• More than 5 million New York State criminal records, parole and probation files,
• More than 20 million New York City criminal complaints, arrests, 911/311 calls and summonses spanning five years,
• More than 31 million national crime records,
• More than 33 billion public records.
The Crime Center employs satellite imaging and mapping of New York City (using Geographic Information System software) precinct-by-precinct.
The link analysis capacity of the RTCC can track suspects to their known addresses and point detectives to the locations where they are most likely to flee. The Real Time Crime Center was built with the oversight of integrated solution[buzzword] provider Dimension Data.”
None of that would be in existence if it wasn’t for the efforts of Onalfo. According to Computer World, he and his staff won the 21st Century Achievement Award in the government and nonprofit organizations category of the 2006 Computerworld Honors Program for its Crime Data Warehouse project (the RTCC).
When Onalfo was asked in 2006 by Computer World what he thought he had accomplished at that point as the CIO for the NYPD he had this to say,
“First of all, it’s been the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s helped the police officers get their jobs done. It’s helping the citizens of New York.
We’ve done things like put laptops in cars for the first time, put a new hard-wired network throughout the city, provide disaster recovery for the data center [and] put in a videoconferencing network throughout the department so Commissioner Kelly can simultaneously talk to every precinct.
There are so many things. We brought the infrastructure up to date, and now we’re trying to bring all the applications up to date.”
As we enter into the new year of 2020 those words that Onalfo spoke in 2006 seem so distant with so many agencies having developed their information technology structure off that of the NYPD.
After his retirement from his second career with the NYPD, he went on to advise many other law enforcement entities on how to handle and upgrade the IT needs within their own departments.
Onalfo received many accolades in his time as a leader in the information technology world. He was named one of the “Top 5 CIO’s” by “Computerworld” magazine, and “Top 25 CIO Doers” in 2012 by “Government Technology Magazine.”
In November 2012, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Port Police for his contributions to law enforcement technologies. Most notably Bill Gates of Microsoft, recognized Onalfo’s excellence calling him “a legend in the industry.”
While he may have been a giant in the information technology world Onalfo was also a loving husband, father, brother, grandfather and uncle to his family.
His sister, Annette Quagliano had this to say about her brother,
“He was such a successful man, and as most very successful people do, he put himself through school. He joined the ROTC when he was at the University of Connecticut in order to pay for school. He was such a family man; family was the most important thing to him. He was big supporter of youth soccer. He was just wonderful.”
At his funeral on November 7th 2019 Onalfo received full military and police departmental honors, and was eulogized by former NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. He was laid to rest in Waterbury, Connecticut.
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