NEW YORK (AP) — Long before Michael Greco became the U.S. marshal in the judicial district that includes Manhattan, he dreamed of becoming a police officer, a cowboy, an astronaut and the pope. Decades later, his wish list dwindled.
"I'm not getting a call from the Vatican anytime soon. And the whole astronaut thing didn't work out. I'm not too crazy about heights anyway," Greco said recently in an interview in his office in a Manhattan federal courthouse.
And the police officer and cowboy aspirations?
"Think about it: You combine the two and you have something called the U.S. marshal," says Greco, who took over the post earlier this year.
The Bronx-born marshal, a motorcycle-riding one-time college football linebacker, entered the New York State Police Academy in 1982 after a childhood in Rockland County. His first assignment put him on the front lines of the emerging crack epidemic, patrolling major highways in Orange County.
He rose through the ranks, joining a Drug Enforcement Administration task force for eight years before investigating discrimination within the State Police for seven years. For the last eight years, he was based at New York Police Department headquarters as the state police liaison to the NYPD.
Now, Greco, 55, is one of 94 U.S. marshals nationwide, responsible for the safety of the courts, its employees, including over 100 judges, and a lot more in Manhattan and the Bronx, along with the counties of Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess.
"The Southern District of New York is the crown jewel of the country," he says. "This is the crossroads of the world here, and the eyes are always upon us."
He leads about 350 deputy marshals, court security officers, special security officers and civilian staff who work for the nation's oldest law enforcement agency — established in 1789 — by capturing fugitives, transporting prisoners, protecting witnesses and assisting other federal, state and local agencies. He sees his chief responsibility as keeping the courthouses, the judges and his employees safe.
"Security concerns — we eat, sleep, drink it," says Greco.
He's already been tested when his agency aided security efforts in September when the pope and President Barack Obama came to town along with over 150 heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly.
"It was an unprecedented challenge here in New York City," he says. "And as far as I know, we came out of this without one incident."
Friends are not surprised at Greco's rise.
"What gets guys in trouble is their ego," says retired NYPD Sgt. Tom Kelly, who has known Greco since grade school. "He doesn't have it. He's just a smart guy who can play in the sand box with anybody."
Greco, of Puerto Rican descent, said he's proud to be the first Hispanic named to the marshal's role in a city where Hispanics make up nearly 30 percent of the population. "It's a big deal," he said.
He was sworn in on the Bible of his grandmother, Rosa Maria Cruz Diaz, who spoke no English when she left Puerto Rico for the states in 1940.
Greco said growing numbers of minorities in law enforcement is ensuring there'll be plenty of others in his footsteps.
"Ideally, you would want any agency to mirror the population that you serve," he said. "Still, a lot of ceilings have to be broken."
Associated Press Writer Tom Hays contributed to this report.