Amir Yakatally makes history as first Guyanese Muslim chief in NYPD, spearheads training for thousands of recruits

Chief Amir Yakatally in his office at the New York Police Academy.
Photo by Tracey Khan

As the first Guyanese-Muslim Chief of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and commanding officer of the Police Academy, Amir Yakatally embodies the American dream. His rise through the ranks is a testament to his dedication, leadership, and unwavering commitment to serving his community.

Chief Yakatally, a first-generation American Guyanese, was born and raised in Brooklyn to immigrant parents from a small rural area, No. 3 village, West Bank Berbice. Like many immigrant families, his parents worked to ensure he had the best quality of life, inspiring him to join the NYPD. His hard work and discipline propelled him up the ranks within the department, and he advanced to training.

Now, as the Chief of Training at the NYPD Police Academy, he faces the challenge of preparing recruits for the complexities of modern policing. “Training is not just about imparting skills but also shaping the mindset of new officers,” Chief Yakatally added. Initially scared of his career choice, his family beams with pride. “My parents were scared, but now they’re extremely proud, and I was able to experience how my dad felt before he died a few years ago,” he shares.

Yakatally’s leadership philosophy is grounded in humility, respect, and a deep understanding of the power and responsibility of the NYPD uniform. “It’s a different world from when I started. We focus on humility and respect…we humble you from a civilian mindset to get you ready before we give you that blue uniform,” he explains, highlighting the responsibility that comes with the badge.

The New York Police Academy, a state-of-the-art facility for both theoretical and practical training of recruits.
The New York Police Academy, a state-of-the-art facility for both theoretical and practical training of recruits. Photo by Tracey Khan

The Police Academy in College Point Boulevard, Queens, where he trains, is a state-of-the-art facility with modern theoretical and practical training amenities. It features a mock courtroom, subway station, bank, grocery store, and other simulated environments where crimes might occur, ensuring recruits receive comprehensive, hands-on training for real-world policing.

His impact extends beyond the academy walls. He has made significant contributions to community policing, fostering relationships with diverse communities and addressing the needs of the people he serves. “Being from a Guyanese background, I was able to bridge gaps between officers and the West Indian community,” he notes.

Chief Yakatally only sometimes aspired to be a police officer during his school years in Brooklyn,  from junior high to college. Initially pursuing accounting at Brooklyn College, he was drawn to a different path. “I saw the opportunity to become an NYPD cop,” he says. Inspired by his father’s stories and the nobility he saw in policing, he decided to pivot…my father often joked about his job as a doorman, wearing a uniform daily and sharing stories about being the gateway for people entering the building. Subtly, those stories inspired my desire to join the police department,” Chief Yakatally reflected, adding that he knew he would make an impact.

And indeed, it did. Growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a predominantly Caribbean-filled area, Chief Yakatally was able to bridge the gap between the police and the community on multiple levels. “We’re here to serve the public. It’s about respect and humility, and even with the language or accent barriers, I was able to help,” he added.

Chief Yakatally’s journey through the ranks of the NYPD was marked by continuous growth and overcoming personal challenges. Starting at the 67th precinct in Flatbush, he quickly made a name for himself.

Promotion followed promotion as he moved from sergeant to lieutenant, then captain. “Comfort is the enemy of progress,” he says, reflecting on his relentless pursuit of growth. Each promotion brought new challenges, especially his transition from officer to sergeant. “At 28, I led a platoon with members much older than me. I had to earn their respect.”

A collection of Chief Yakatally’s emblems showcasing his remarkable achievements throughout his career.
A collection of Chief Yakatally’s emblems showcasing his remarkable achievements throughout his career.Photo by Tracey Khan

Yakatally’s career has been punctuated by triumphs and tragedies. He fondly remembers helping a young woman turn her life around, among many other rewarding moments. The darkest moment of his career came as the commander of the 32nd precinct in Harlem, where he lost two officers, Detectives Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, in the line of duty.

As he spoke with Caribbean Life, he became emotional, revealing the lingering pain of this loss. His office, adorned with emblems of his achievements and pictures of the fallen officers, is a poignant reminder of their sacrifice.

These experiences drive his commitment to ensuring recruits understand the gravity of their roles and the impact they can have on the community.

He reflects on the inspiration he found in leaders like Deputy Chief Clint Mcpherson, a fellow Guyanese who rose through the NYPD ranks. “He taught me the importance of getting the right people to work for you,” he says.

As the first American Guyanese Chief in the NYPD, his journey is significant for the Guyanese community and beyond. Looking ahead, he remains committed to his mission. “I don’t want to put limits on myself; I’m looking to do my best here and train the recruits and hopefully, at some point, get back out there in the field and see what other opportunities are there for me to help the NYPD. As a supervisor, I learned that I have the power to shape and mold officers in the street,” he stressed.

He remains deeply connected to his Guyanese roots. Although he hasn’t visited Guyana since childhood, he plans to return soon, especially to honor fallen NYPD officer Randolph Holder, a fellow Guyanese who was fatally shot in the line of duty in an East Harlem neighborhood in 2015.

Amidst his professional commitments, Chief Yakatally finds joy in simple pleasures, like his fantastic family and favorite Guyanese dish, dhal puri with curry. “I mean, dhal puri with any curry. I always used to have my mom make it for me, and she would complain because it’s a lot of work to grind the dhal herself, but she always made it for me, so it’s still my favorite,” he shared as he remembered his mother’s cooking.

It’s a nod to his heritage and the culinary traditions that connect him to his roots. Chief Amir Yakatally’s journey is a powerful narrative of cultural pride, professional excellence, and unwavering dedication to public service. “As a Guyanese American, I’m proud to be in such a high position in this city and want to continue shaping policing. Policing NYPD leads the way for the rest of the country.”

As he continues to rise, his focus remains on training the next generation of officers with humility and respect, ensuring they are ready to uphold the values of the NYPD.