JOHN TIMONEY'S law-enforcement career stretched across four decades and three major cities.

You'd think, with all that experience, that the famous straight-talker would have a whole bunch of stories to tell about cops, politicians and the press - some funny, some sad, some just plain old interesting.

You'd be right.

"The Irish are great bulls--- artists," Timoney said yesterday, hitting a 10 on an imaginary self-deprecation meter.

"My mother was a great storyteller. From the time I was a kid, I used to sit in the kitchen and listen to her tell stories about the olden days.

"Maybe I picked it up from her. Otherwise, I'm not quite sure."

Timoney's storytelling skills are front and center in his soon-to-published book, "Beat Cop to Top Cop: A Tale of Three Cities."

The former Philadelphia police commissioner - who came here from New York, then went to Miami - will visit Philly on May 11 to the launch the book, which is more an account of lessons learned in law enforcement than it is an autobiography.

"I didn't want to do a memoir," he said, "because all you do is brag without addressing your screw-ups. I tried to write a halfway fair book."

The book details dramatic drops in crime that he oversaw in all three cities as well as controversies that dogged him in each town.

He is keenly aware that many residents and politicians here still have a great deal of affection for him, something that was apparent during the 2007 mayoral election, when then-candidate Dwight Evans pledged to bring Timoney back if elected mayor.

"It's a good, gritty working-class city. It doesn't have the attitude that you find in some people in New York," he said. "The people are decent."

The Dublin-born Timoney, who moved with his family to New York when he was 13, starts his book off with an admission: he never much wanted to be a cop.

But after a summer night spent drinking with pals in 1967, Timoney decided to take an exam for the NYPD.

He passed, and Timoney started off in the South Bronx's rough-and-tumble 44th Precinct - its headquarters was nicknamed "Murder House" after a prisoner was beaten to death, he wrote.

His career kicked into high gear in the early '90s, when then-New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton made Timoney the youngest four-star chief in the department's history, and later his top deputy commissioner.

The two oversaw a historic drop in crime that was the result of extensively planned proactive policing strategies.

Timoney retired from the NYPD in 1996. A year later, he was lured to Philadelphia, when then-Mayor Ed Rendell asked Bratton to evaluate the Philadelphia Police Department. Timoney came along, and Bratton floated the idea that his former deputy might want to be Philly's top cop.

From the start, he liked the idea of working for Rendell.

"Rendell single-handedly revitalized the city," Timoney wrote. "He had boundless energy and a temper to fit. But he was a genuinely funny guy and the world's biggest practical joker."

Rendell remembers being equally enamored with Timoney, whom he called "the greatest police commissioner in modern Philadelphia history."

"He reminds you of all the Irish cops you know. He's tough and straight-talking," Rendell said yesterday, "but he's the smartest of them all."

Timoney recalls first being frustrated in Philly: crime was out of control, and the city's civil-service system hampered his ability to appoint his own handpicked leadership team.

He also got an earful from the press, including former Daily News crime reporter Nicole Egan, who grilled him about his pledge to do roll-calls at every police district.

"What is this woman doing in my universe? I thought to myself," he wrote.

Egan, who covered Timoney's first 100 days, said this week that "he brought an incredible breath of hope and optimism to the city," but was sometimes thin-skinned about criticism.

Timoney's book covers his handling of protesters during the 2000 Republican National Convention, the infamous Thomas Jones beating case, as well as the sizable drop in murders and violent crime that he oversaw.

He revisits the roasting he received over a scandal involving an off-duty homicide captain who was involved in a drunk-driving crash a month before Timoney took over the department. Other cops orchestrated a cover-up.

Timoney wrote that Rendell told him, " 'You screwed up. You should have just fired the guys. Then the arbitrators bring them back, and everyone's satisfied.' "

Also mentioned is his surprisingly chummy relationship with former Mayor John Street - media reports often depicted them at odds. "I found him to be smart and extremely funny, contrary to the perception: smart guy, not so funny."

In 2003, he became the top cop in Miami. He details overseeing another big drop in crime and police shootings, but getting heat over his use of a Lexus SUV from a local car dealership.

Timoney resigned from the Miami department in November and now works for Andrews International, a private security firm. He hasn't ruled out another job in law enforcement.

"My sense is something will happen," he said. "But where do you go? A fourth major city?"

Timoney riffs on a number of Philadelphia personalities in his autobiography, "Beat Cop to Top Cop," including:

  • Gov. Rendell, who hired Timoney when Rendell was mayor: "He had boundless energy and a temper to fit. But he was a genuinely funny guy and the world's biggest practical joker."
  • Former Daily News crime reporter Nicole Egan. "What is this woman doing in my universe?" Timoney says he wondered, when Egan once grilled him for a story.
  • Former Mayor John Street. "I found him to be smart and extremely funny, contrary to the perception."
  • Upon being informed by a reporter that the Palm restaurant was where political deals were sealed in Philly, Timoney says he replied: "I have never been to the Palm. I eat in South Philly in cheap Italian restaurants."
  • On leaving Philadelphia : "I knew I was ready for a change." *