NYPD Commissioner O’Neill Stepping Down; Dermot Shea To Take Over

WCBS 880 Newsroom
November 04, 2019 - 5:18 pm
Bill de Blasio, James O'Neill, Dermot Shea

Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill is stepping down after three years leading the department, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday afternoon.

The 61-year-old, who took on the position in September 2016, is leaving at the end of the month for a job in the private sector. 

He thanked New Yorkers and said they need to know that officers face danger every day.

"I never considered myself a sergeant, lieutenant, captain whatever rank I was, I considered myself a cop cause I know wht it's like to be out there at 2 o'clock on a Saturday morning when you're it and people look to it to keep them safe," O'Neill said. "This is not an easy job — not my job — the job the police officers do every day, the dangers they face and how they willingly go out there and face these dangers each and every day."

O’Neill was the second police commissioner under de Blasio and was named the city’s top cop at the suggestion of former Commissioner Bill Bratton. He started as a transit cop in 1983 and spent his entire career with the NYPD.

Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked O'Neill for his service saying, "Jimmy transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and police, and helped to make the department the most sophisticated and advanced in the country."

The Daily News reports O’Neill is leaving after months of frustration stemming from “increasingly blurred lines between City Hall and Police Headquarters.”

While O'Neill has pushed for neighborhood policing and has watched crime rates continue to fall, he has faced increasing criticism from the Police Benevolent Association, most notably following the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was accused of using an inappropriate and unauthorized chokehold in the death of Eric Garner.

Ed Mullins, the President of the city's Sergeants Benevolent Association, called O'Neill's resignation "long overdue."

"I believe he will go down as the worst Police Commissioner in NYPD history," Mullins said. "Like any coward, Commissioner O'Neill chose to run off before the entire empire falls. Those of us who are truly committed to the NYPD and people of New York City are now left to deal with the tremendous damage inflicted upon the city by him and an out of touch Mayor — but I know I speak for the vast majority of police personnel when I say he will not be missed."

Mullins tells WCBS 880's Kevin Rincon that O'Neill is leaving the NYPD in shambles, saying that morale is at an all-time low.

The attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society says communities of color will "continue to suffer'' under a police department that "prioritizes arrests and summonses.'' Tina Luongo said, "This city needs a Commissioner who is dedicated to transparency and accountability, committed to community engagement, and champions reforms in the face of opposition from police unions and others that are invested in the status quo."

Others had kinder things to say about O'Neill.

Frederick Davie, the chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said he had a good working relationship with O'Neill and found him to be collegial and accessible.

"While we did not always agree we both I believe worked from the deepest respect for each other

Manhattan DA Cy Vance said O'Neill distinguished himself as an extrorindary public servant and state Attorney General Letitia James said O'Neill dedicated his life to protecting the city.

Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, a 28-year NYPD veteran, will take over as commissioner.

"Shea is a proven change agent, using precision policing to fight crime and build trust between police and communities," de Blasio said. 

The mayor said Shea has big shoes to fill, but he is ready.

"Folks who have worked with Dermot Shea will tell you he is the real deal, he will tell you the truth," de Blasio said.

Shea called it a tremendous honor and responsbility.

“I’m grateful to the Mayor for this privilege to serve,” said Shea. “Police Commissioner O’Neill has been a mentor and a friend to me, and I am committed to building on the incredible success of Neighborhood Policing and precision policing, while continuing my life’s work to eradicate gangs and guns from our streets. Every New Yorker deserves to be safe and feel safe, and that has been my mission since I tookthe oath and became a police officer 28 years ago. As Police Commissioner, this will be what drives me.”

PBA President Pat Lynch did not comment on O'Neill's departure, but said he is looking forward to working with Shea. 

“The challenges facing the NYPD are enormous, but so are the opportunities," Lynch said. "We look forward to working with Commissioner Shea to combat the current anti-police atmosphere and make positive changes that will improve the lives of our police officers and every New Yorker we protect.”

Shea grew up in Sunnyside, Queens —  the son of Irish immigrants. He became an NYPD officer in 1991 and rose up the ranks to serve as precinct commander of the 44th and 50th precincts in the Bronx before being appointed as Chief of Crime Control Strategies and Deputy Commissioner for Operations in 2014.

In 2018, he was promoted to Chief of Detectives, where he oversaw all of the department’s investigatory operations, including every criminal investigation in the city. 

Shea will continue the community policing strategy favored by de Blasio. "We cannot and will not rest until all New Yorkers feel safe," he said.