Two weeks before Jack Maple lost his battle with colon cancer, he somehow managed to drag himself to John Miller's house on Long Island for a barbecue. Miller, the ABC correspondent and former press guy for the NYPD, had put together a kind of crime-fest by the sea. There were lots of cops, feds, and lawyers. Though Maple was heart-wrenchingly frail, needing a walker as well as assistance to get around, the once-robust former deputy police commissioner seemed to have a fine time.
"All the FBI guys and all the NYPD guys kissed his ring," says Miller, who handled the arrangements for Maple's funeral at St Patrick's. And as he was leaving the barbecue, Maple turned to Miller, peeled off a $100 bill, and said, "Make sure you take care of the band for me."
Maple, who was 48, stayed in character to the end: funny, cranky, irrepressible. And courageous. "He faced his illness head-on," says private eye Bill Stanton, who was Maple's partner in the investigations business. "I grew up with some cartoonish ideas about heroism and toughness. But I learned from Jack what it really means to be a man."
In 1991, there were more than 2,200 murders in New York, and everyone -- pols, sociologists, urban experts -- was ready to throw in the towel. But not Maple. He sat at his table along the wall in Elaine's and talked about how he could cut crime in half. It was a preposterous barroom boast -- and he made it happen.
In a mere 27 months as New York's deputy police commissioner for crime-control strategies, he obliterated decades of accepted wisdom about police work, crime fighting, and responsible government. His Compstat process, which brought accountability to the NYPD, is now used by more than a third of the country's big-city police departments.
Maple's extraordinary success was a triumph of the eccentric over the conventional. But he was an iconoclast in ways far more important than his foppish dress. He challenged the way things were done. He questioned procedures. He was perhaps the most creative cop in history.
Not bad for a high school dropout who called himself a crookologist.
Click here for this week's Big Question