Sunnyside native Dermot Shea named city’s next police commissioner after O’Neill announces retirement

Photo by Mark Hallum

Calling it “an American Dream story if there ever was one,” Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 28-year veteran Dermot Shea will be the next Commissioner of the NYPD starting on Dec. 1 after James O’Neill announced he would step down after three years to take a job in the private sector.

Born and raised in a one-bedroom apartment in Sunnyside with Irish immigrant parents and four siblings, Shea began his service as a police officer in 1991 — a year when New York City faced more than 2,000 murders — and rose through the ranks to become Chief of Detectives.

“This is a tremendous honor and a tremendous responsibility and I’m grateful to the mayor for this privilege to serve,” Shea said. “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.”

Shea said his upbringing in Sunnyside helped form the man he became.

“Those years we were rich in so many ways, but it had nothing to do with money,” Shea said. “That’s where I learned to treat people with respect.”

In 2014, Shea was appointed Chief of Crime Control Strategies and Deputy Commissioner for Operations where he oversaw the CompStat system that honed a new generation of precision approaches that helped drive crime down to record lows.

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

O’Neill was sworn in following the retirement of Bill Bratton in September 2016. The 35-year veteran was charged with moving the department away from open-windows policing to his Neighborhood Policing philosophy.

“Over the last three years I’ve had the opportunity to work with Commissioner O’Neill in making the way our city polices fairer and more equitable,” said City Councilman Donovan Richards, the chair of the Committee on Public Safety. As a true believer in the benefits of community policing and the impact it has on our neighborhoods, he has served our city well. Though we still have a lot of work to do, having someone like Commissioner O’Neill made getting closer to that goal of better police community relations easier. While I wish him well in retirement, I know that he will be missed by many.”

O’Neill said the pressure to fire Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner weighed heavily on his conscience. As leader of the nation’s largest police force, O’Neill was vexed by the rise of suicide in the ranks, with 10 already this year, seven since June.

Through it all, O’Neill presided over the lowest crime rate in New York City since the NYPD started tracking major crime, as well as the fewest number of homicides recorded since the 1950s. O’Neill endorsed Shea, his friend of 25 years, as his successor.

“Dermot Shea has exactly the experience and skill to continue to drive down crime, strengthen relationships with the community members we serve and make sure every neighborhood has the safety they deserve,” O’Neill said. “We cannot take the historic crime reductions in New York City for granted, and Dermot’s understanding of the complex issues that lead to crime and disorder, as well as the most effective strategies for addressing these issues, is as good as it gets in policing these days.”

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