The second Age of Bratton is coming to an end. On Tuesday, the NYPD Commissioner announced that he would be stepping down in September and taking a job in the Clinton industrial complex. Bratton also confirmed that current Chief of Department James O'Neill will be taking over his post as New York's top cop. So, who's the new guy?
O'Neill, 58, grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and joined the NYPD as a transit officer in 1983. He worked his first patrols in and around Columbus Circle and served in over a half-dozen precincts across Manhattan and the Bronx. He was promoted to sergeant in 1987, captain in 1997, inspector in 2003, and was made a deputy chief in 2005. During his rise through NYPD ranks, O'Neill has overseen the force's Firearms Training Section, the Police Academy, and Warrant Section. O'Neill has a B.A. in government and a master's of public administration from John Jay College. He has taught criminal justice at CUNY Rockland.
In 2008, O'Neill had a brush with scandal while running the Narcotics Division. Under his watch, four narcotics cops were arrested and over a dozen more were reprimanded amidst allegations that officers had been using seized drugs to pay off informants, stealing cash from drug dealers, and having sex with informants. O'Neill had been picked by then-commissioner Ray Kelly to crack down on the division's "cowboy culture," and was demoted to the Fugitive Enforcement Division after news of the misconduct broke.
According to a Wall Street Journal profile, the reassignment made O'Neill begin questioning his future as a cop, and in 2013 he had a conversation with Bratton, who had not yet been named the new commissioner, about possibly moving to the corporate world. Bratton urged him to stay on the force.
One of Bratton's first acts as commissioner when he took over the following year was to promote O'Neill to his executive staff in March 2014. By that summer, the commissioner made O'Neill chief of patrol and he worked to mobilize 1,000 extra patrol cops amidst a wave of shootings. In late November of that year, Bratton promoted O'Neill to his current rank of chief of department, and in the first weeks of his new role, O'Neill was tasked with managing the response to large-scale protests against the lack of criminal charges for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, one of several officers involved in killing Eric Garner.
In his year and a half as department chief, O'Neill has often served as a mouthpiece for the NYPD, fielding questions about police shootings, terrorism threats on New Year's Eve, and a blizzard travel ban.
"The beauty of my job is it’s apolitical," O’Neill said during a press conference late last month. "I love what I do. I love being a cop. I love this uniform, so however I can serve this city. I enjoy this, and I enjoy seeing what the greatest men and women of the NYPD do every day."
The Journal's profile of O'Neill paints him as a committed rank-and-file officer who wakes up twice a night to check his Blackberry and gets support from his colleagues for trying to close the gap between officers and the neighborhoods they patrol. At a meeting this summer, O'Neill told precinct leaders he wanted officers to get out of patrol cars and talk to residents instead of "rolling up on people," which, he said, puts officers in even greater danger.
As commander of the Bronx's 44th Precinct, O'Neill implemented a neighborhood policing strategy that is now being tested in 25 precincts. The new approach evaluates officers on how successful they are at reducing crime conditions, rather than the raw number of arrests made. It also sets aside designated time during each shift for beat cops to communicate directly with people who live and work within precincts' borders.
"This is important stuff," O'Neill said in the meeting. "The world has changed and you have to accept that."
"Few understand the human side of policing better than Jim O'Neill," Bratton said in a statement prepared announcing his resignation today. "As chief, his innovative NCO [Neighborhood Coordination Officers] program is not only making communities safer, it has brought police and the people together."
"He has a full understanding that to be successful at crime reduction you need cooperation with the public," the commissioner continued.
Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference today that the neighborhood policing program is in the process of being implemented citywide, and will be in place at close to half of the department's 76 precincts this fall, and all of its public housing units.
Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson likes O'Neill: “It’s also about community engagement and he recognizes the importance of building relationships,” she said.
Chief of Patrol Carlos Gomez will take O'Neill's place when he becomes commissioner this fall.
"As the architect of our neighborhood policing program, Jimmy O'Neill has built a national model for bringing police and the community together to fight crime," Mayor de Blasio said at Tuesday's press conference. "As the top-ranking uniformed member of the NYPD, Jimmy has spent each day ensuring that New York City remains the safest big city in America."