Mayor salutes New York police chief on surprise departure as minority groups and sergeants express contrasting criticism
New York Citys police commissioner is retiring after three years in charge of the nations largest police department, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday. James ONeill, 61, will be replaced by Dermot Shea, chief of detectives.
At a press conference, ONeill praised Shea and said he was leaving to take an unspecified opportunity. He thanked New Yorkers and said they needed to know that officers face danger every day. Shea described the job as a sacred responsibility.
The announcement met some criticism. Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said communities of color would continue to suffer under a department that prioritizes arrests and summonses.
From the other side of the partisan divide, Ed Mullins, president of the NYC Sergeants Benevolent Association, said: This announcement is long overdue. I believe he will go down as the worst police commissioner in NYPD history.
ONeills tenure, which began with a pipe bomb blast on his first full day in office in September 2016, saw the city grapple with tensions between officers and the community.
He moved the department away from the controversial broken windows theory of law enforcement, which viewed low-level offenses as a gateway to bigger crimes, while presiding over continued drops in crime.
He also led the response to a deadly truck attack in 2017 and this summer fired an officer involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, I want to express deep gratitude to Jimmy ONeill for dedicating his entire career to keeping our city safe, de Blasio said in a statement. Jimmy transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and police, and helped to make the department the most sophisticated and advanced in the country.
De Blasio called Shea a proven change agent who has worked to build trust between police and communities and is uniquely qualified to be commissioner.
Joining the NYPD as a transit officer in 1983, ONeill spent more than three decades with the department before becoming commissioner. He then led efforts to bolster community policing and repair the departments relationship with minority communities that had complained about innocent black and Hispanic men being caught up in aggressive enforcement of minor crimes.
At times, it appeared ONeill was caught between loyalty to his men and women in blue and the progressive policies embraced by his boss, de Blasio, and pushed by police reform advocates.
In one example, ONeill said he wanted changes to a state law that keeps police disciplinary records secret, so the department could share outcomes of cases with the public, but did not support a full repeal.
After ONeill fired Officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garners death, the citys largest police union called for his immediate resignation.
On Monday, Mullins of the Sergeants Benevolent Association called ONeill a puppet of the de Blasio incompetent and dishonest mayoral administration and the catalyst for New York Citys hands-off policing and ongoing descent of overall quality of life and violent street crimes to which we are seeing an increase.