Photo: Mark Hallum/amNewYork
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill with Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing the top cop's resignation.

The nation’s largest police force will have a new leader in December when current Chief of Detectives, Dermot Shea, replaces the outgoing Commissioner James O’Neill, who formally announced his resignation Monday in favor of an undisclosed private sector job.

O’Neill simply said it was “his time” to move on despite questions of recent controversy regarding the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the Eric Garner case or the spate of police involved shootings and suicides.

“It weighed heavily on me, but I felt that this is my time,” O’Neill said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said his decision to name Shea as O’Neill’s successor – rather than seeking new leadership outside the NYPD – was based on a personal conviction that the department is going in the right direction with new inroads made within the community through programs such as the Neighborhood Coordination Officers initiative.

“[O’Neill] led a transformation that many people felt was impossible … The relationship between our community and our police is fundamentally different than it was a few years ago. This is a safer city and a fairer city,” de Blasio said. “In 2018, 15,000 fewer people were arrested than five years earlier and we got safer.”

O’Neill spent 37 years in the NYPD and the last three years as its commissioner. He will leave the department at the end of November, O’Neill said.

Shea, from Sunnyside, Queens, started his career in the NYPD in 1991 and has since climb through many facets of the agency before being appointed to his current role under the leadership of former Commissioner Bill Bratton, who stepped down in 2016.

Shea did not elaborate on a strategy for ending the high number of officers suicides — ten so far this year — but that any cop taking his or her own life is too many. He pledged additional departmental measures in the future to help save officers’ lives.

The current chief of detectives came under fire earlier this year after a WABC-TV investigation found that the NYPD undercounted the number of rape incidents in recent years. Shea said he would have a dialogue with concerned groups in the future.

Shea’s top cop appointment, however, did not sit well with some in the legal community.

Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, was nonplused by Shea’s appointment to top cop in the city, explaining that it was another failure of behalf of the de Blasio administration to seek a transparent, community driven decision in terms of law enforcement. 

“Yet again, this Administration has failed to consult the community on a decision that will affect the lives of millions of New Yorkers. 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,” Luongo said. “Under Chief Dermot Shea’s watch, the NYPD has expanded its rogue gang database to ensnare thousands of Black and Latinx men and women, and codified practices to surreptitiously collect DNA at all costs, even from those who have never been convicted of or charged with a crime. 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.”

Councilman Donovan Richards, who represents communities in southeast Queens, believes that the NYPD needs to better reflect the city’s diversity from the top down.

“As a true believer in the benefits of community policing and the impact that it has on our neighborhoods, he has served our city well,” Richards said. “As we look towards a new commissioner, I am concerned with the direction we are going. The faces of everyday officers is changing, as the NYPD shifts to a majority minority department. The top of the department should reflect that. Even as we see great progress, there is still much more work to be done to ensure our department represents the communities it so severely polices.”

As of Monday afternoon, the de Blasio administration had not yet appointed a successor to Shea as chief of detectives.

This story first appeared in amNewYork, one of our sister publications.

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