O’Neill resigns as NYPD Commissioner; Sunnyside’s Shea set to take over

Commissioner James O’Neill announced he was stepping down at New York City’s top cop Monday. AP photo by Richard Drew, file.

Commissioner James O’Neill announced he was stepping down at New York City’s top cop Monday. AP photo by Richard Drew, file.

By David Brand

After roughly three years leading the NYPD, and 33 more on the force, Commissioner James O’Neill announced his resignation Monday. NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, a Sunnyside native, will take over as New York City’s top cop, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

O’Neill, 61, replaced Bill Bratton as commissioner in 2016. He presided over a period of decreasing crime as well as heightened calls for police accountability.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I want to express deep gratitude to Jimmy O’Neill for dedicating his entire career to keeping our city safe,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Jimmy transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and police, and helped to make the Department the most sophisticated and advanced in the country.”

O’Neill rose steadily through the law enforcement ranks after he joined the Transit Police Department in 1983, years before it was folded into the broader NYPD. He was promoted to sergeant in 1987 and to lieutenant in 1991. In 1997 he was promoted to captain.

By 2005, he was deputy chief of the NYPD. O'Neill was promoted to Chief of Department in 2014 and served there being named commissioner in 2016. He will now take a job in the private sector, the Daily News reported.

“As a true believer in the benefits of community policing and the impact it has on our neighborhoods, he has served our city well,” said Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards, chair of the Committee on Public Safety. “Though we still have a lot of work to, having someone like Commissioner O’Neill made getting closer to that goal of better police-community relations easier.”

Major crimes reached historic lows in New York City under O’Neill, continuing a decades-long trend in the city crime rate. At the same time. New Yorkers’ calls for police accountability, especially in cases involving men of color, intensified. O’Neill made the final decision to fire NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in August, more than five years after Pantaleo put Staten Island resident Eric Garner, who is black, in a banned chokehold that led to Garner’s death.

Justice reform advocates have also demanded that the city turn over footage recorded by NYPD officer body cameras, devices that became standard during O’Neill’s tenure as commissioner. They have also lobbied for the repeal of the state’s 50a law, which shields officer disciplinary records from public view.

Shea previously served as executive officer of the 47th Precinct and as a detective in Manhattan South borough command. He also worked as an officer in the 24th, 46th and 52nd Precincts, as well as in the Narcotics Division.

“Dermot Shea is a proven change agent, using precision policing to fight crime and build trust between police and communities," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "As Chief of Crime Control Strategies and then Chief of Detectives, Dermot was one of the chief architects of the approach that has made New York City the safest big city in America.”

“Dermot is uniquely qualified to serve as our next Police Commissioner and drive down crime rates even further,” de Blasio added.

Justice reform advocates are wary of the Shea as the new commissioner, however. They cite his expansion of the NYPD’s gang database and DNA collection initiative as programs that target and harm communities of color.

“This will be more of the same, and our clients — New Yorkers from communities of color — will continue to suffer more of the same from a police department that prioritizes arrests and summonses above all else,” said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz criticized the decision to hire a white man as the new commissioner. The NYPD has never had a woman or person of color lead the department. 

“At a time when the relationship between police and communities of color couldn’t be worse — we chose yet another white guy?” Cruz tweeted. “We have many qualified men and women of color within the[NYPD] who could lead the force in the right direction. What gives?”