James O’Neill is stepping down as commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday. O’Neill, 61, will be replaced by Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea.
O’Neill was appointed to the top job in 2016 by de Blasio. During his tenure, O’Neill led efforts to bolster community policing and repair the department’s relationship with minority communities that had complained about innocent black and Hispanic men being caught up in aggressive enforcement of minor crimes.
“Jimmy has done so many extraordinary things, I literally don’t have time to list them all,” de Blasio said. “He led a transformation that many people thought was impossible. I heard the Doubting Thomases many times. They said that neighborhood policing wouldn’t work. They said that the changes we were making would make us less safe. They said communities wouldn’t buy-in. They said police wouldn’t buy-in. They didn’t know Jimmy O’Neill and they didn’t know what he built.”
“Jimmy can be proud of the fact that crime in New York City today is at the lowest level its been since the 1950s,” de Blasio said. “I’m gonna miss him.”
O’Neill has presided over continuing drops in crime and the department’s response to high-profile incidents, including a pipe bomb attack in 2016 and a truck attack that killed eight people on a bicycle path in 2017.
In August, O’Neill brought closure to one of the NYPD’s lowest moments, firing a police officer for the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner. The city’s largest police union responded by calling for O’Neill’s resignation.
“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,” de Blasio said. “Jimmy transformed the relationship between New Yorkers and police, and helped to make the Department the most sophisticated and advanced in the country.”
Shea grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, the son of Irish immigrants.
“We’ve redefined the last six years how we police this great city. I think we’ve done what many said was impossible. We’ve had a lot of help,” Shea said. “We further pushed crime down. We’ve reduced incarceration. We’ve attained levels, whether you measure by any standard or metric, homicides, lives saved, shooting incidents, assault victims, robberies, all at historical lows.”
O’Neill, who began his law enforcement career in 1983 with the Transit Police Department, is retiring from the NYPD to take a job in the private sector.
“I’m leaving because I have another opportunity. I’ll talk a little more about that after I leave. But it’s something I couldn’t pass up. I’ve been doing this job for almost 37 years now. I love being a cop. I consider myself a cop as the police commissioner,” he said.
“I never considered myself a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, whatever rank I was, I considered myself a cop. Because I know what it’s like to be out there at 2 o’clock on a Saturday morning when you’re it. And people look to you: Hey, keep me safe, make me feel better. And that’s what our cops do each and every day.”
“It’s been an incredible experience for me,” O’Neill said.