NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea will be elevated to Police Commissioner following the resignation of James P. O’Neill, Mayor de Blasio announced in a City Hall press conference this afternoon.
Mr. O’Neill’s decision to leave after three years in the job—he will be staying on until the end of the month—was not a shock, with speculation growing that he would leave in the wake of the controversial handling of the disciplinary case resulting from the death of Eric Garner five years ago.
It was believed that he had been ready in August to allow Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo to resign and qualify for a partial pension after Deputy Commissioner for Trials Rosemarie Maldonado recommended he be fired for using a department-banned chokehold while trying to arrest Mr. Garner on a Staten Island street, starting a series of incidents that played a role in Mr. Garner’s death.
Suspect Mayor Spiked Deal
Police-union officials including Mr. Pantaleo’s attorney, Stuart London, accused Mayor de Blasio of intervening to spike that arrangement and force the cop’s firing with no pension. Police Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch was sharply critical of Mr. O’Neill, charging that “the New York City Police Department is rudderless and frozen.” The union subsequently held a “no-confidence” vote regarding both the Mayor and Commissioner O’Neill.
While Mr. de Blasio and Mr. O’Neill both insisted there had been no mayoral interference, political consultant George Arzt noted shortly before the Mayor announced the change at the top of the NYPD, “There were indications a deal [for Mr. Pantaleo to leave the department but collect a delayed pension] was on the table and it was taken back at the 11th hour.”
Mr. O’Neill, who said he would be taking a position in the private sector that he would detail in the coming days, was a prime proponent of the neighborhood-policing program that was intended to get officers more involved in the areas they patrolled, both as an anti-crime tool and to ease tensions between cops and some minority communities.
In recent months, however, there were sharpened divisions between police and black communities and elected officials over several street confrontations. In some instances, those involved disrespect shown to officers by neighborhood residents; others brought charges of excessive force against cops.
Day Before CCRB Vote
The timing of Mr. O’Neill’s departure was unexpected. It came a day before a vote on a ballot issue that would have strengthened the powers of the Civilian Complaint Review Board that was heatedly opposed by the police unions. And Mr. Arzt, a former political columnist and television executive, noted that government officials tended to schedule such announcements toward the end of the week to limit their shelf life.
“You do it on a Monday, you’re going to be dealing with it all week,” he said.
Mr. Shea, 50, a 28-year NYPD veteran, has gotten high marks for his work as Chief of Detectives and before that, as Chief of Crime Control Strategies.