O’Neill On Stepping Down: ‘I've Given This Job Everything That I Have’

WCBS 880 Newsroom
November 29, 2019 - 5:00 am

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — After 37 years as a police officer and more than three years as NYPD Commissioner, James O’Neill is leaving with his head held high.

The city’s top cop officially steps down on Sunday, when incoming Commissioner Dermot Shea, the current Chief of Detectives, is sworn in.

In an interview with WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell, O’Neill says he doesn’t have many regrets from his time as the NYPD’s leader.

“I know that I've given this job everything that I have,” he said. “I haven't left anything on the table.”

He says the best thing about being the police commissioner is all the lives he was able to touch.

“This job is consuming, and that’s good that it’s consuming. You get to see everything that gets done here by the men and women of this great police department,” O’Neill said. “It is just an experience that too many people don’t get the opportunity to have and I feel lucky to have this job.”

The city’s top cop said he knows he has worked hard for the past three decades, but never thought he would rise to his current position.

He adds that the job comes with hefty responsibility and influence, and it’s important to use that power in the correct way.

 “This is a position where, when you speak, people listen. This is an unbelievable platform, and I’m not sure if I understood that coming in here, but I certainly understand it three years later,” O’Neill said.

The commissioner does note that the worst part of the job is when the city’s loses a police officer in the line of duty.

“It's the police commissioner who’s telling the family member that their loved one has been killed,” he said. “That is an experience that just rips your heart out.”

The 62-year-old says that in 2019, the surge of suicides in the police force has been a teachable moment that the department has a lot of work to do in order to solve what he called a “mental health crisis.”

“We have to learn from it, we have to make sure that we do our best to take care of the cops that do this job,” he said.

O’Neill will depart from the NYPD to serve as Senior Vice President and Global Head of Physical Security for Visa, according to the credit card company. He will take on the new job beginning Dec. 2.

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.

He tells Haskell that being the NYPD commissioner meant giving up free time, and he’s not so sure if he’d going to get much downtime in the future.

“When I wake up on Sunday, I'm gonna still check my phone but, you know, it’s not gonna be about police work anymore, maybe it’ll be a sale at Walmart or something,” he joked.

Listen to the full interview with NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell above.