Get a link in your mailbox to your weekly NYPD Confidential column as soon as it is published! Click on the button above right on this page — or here — to sign up for this feature.
O’Neill and His Legacy
November 11, 2019
So Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill is history.
His legacy: subservience to the mayor from his full-throated endorsement of Neighborhood Policing — whatever that actually is; his turning the other cheek when cops were taunted and worse; and his about-face in firing Daniel Pantaleo over the 2014 “chokehold” death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.
Let’s begin by saying that O’Neill is as decent and dedicated a guy as you’re going to find. Unlike his famed predecessors, Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly, he has no super-inflated ego. While some may consider this a strength, for O’Neill it proved a weakness.
Police sources at the highest levels of the department say O’Neill was never comfortable in the job and had been trying to exit for the past year. The problem was, he couldn’t find a job. That enabled de Blasio to sandbag him, culminating with O’Neill’s about-face over Pantaleo, which made him seem weak and ineffectual, making it difficult, if not impossible, for him to remain as commissioner.
Let’s review the Pantaleo situation, as the mainstream media has ignored its implications. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict him. Ditto the feds. But in August, he was tried departmentally. Trial judge Rosemarie Maldonado found him guilty and recommended his firing, denying him a pension.
Then Chief of Department Terence Monahan met with PBA head Pat Lynch and union lawyer Stuart London. According to London, Monahan promised that Pantaleo would be allowed to retire, thus protecting his pension. “When Monahan sat down,” London said at the time, “he immediately said Pantaleo’s pension was safe.”
NYPD spokeswoman Devora Kaye confirmed at the time that Monahan had met with Lynch and London to discuss Pantaleo’s pension. “Chief Monahan discussed this as one of the possible options that he thought was fair,” she said.
Instead, O’Neill fired Pantaleo. His voice quavering as he announced his decision, he cited Pantaleo’s 289 arrests and 14 department medals; how Pantaleo had been called, at the request of local merchants, to a place of repeated petty crime and drug activity; and how Pantaleo had effected a lawful arrest of Garner, who refused to provide an I.D., and then resisted arrest.
O’Neill even acknowledged that Pantaleo’s use of the department-banned chokehold was acceptable during his the initial struggle with the 400-pound Garner. Pantaleo’s mistake, said O’Neill, was that he did not later adjust his grip after he and Garner fell to the ground. He added that if he had been a cop in Pantaleo’s place, he might have made a similar mistake.
Some at Police Plaza called O’Neill’s about-face “a cave,” indicating weakness. While some consider Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins a hothead, his comment about O’Neill rings true. “He lost whatever credibility he was clinging to when he betrayed the entire law enforcement profession by firing PO Daniel Pantaleo for the sake of political expediency.” Indeed, de Blasio used O’Neill’s firing of Pantaleo in his presidential bid, saying “justice” had been served.
In choosing O'Neill's successor as murders and shootings have begun to tick upwards, de Blasio appointed Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea — definitely a competent crime-fighting guy — passing over Monahan and First Deputy Ben Tucker. Some black politicians noted that de Blasio had twice passed over Tucker, who is black, while pointing out that all three of de Blasio’s police commissioners — Bratton, O’Neill and Shea — were white.
That, folks, is racial pandering. In the past 40 years, two of the department’s dozen police commissioners have been black. Ben Ward, appointed by Mayor Ed Koch in the 1980s, had a tumultuous, though ultimately positive, term as the city’s first black top cop. Among other things, he will long be remembered for uttering the term “our dirty little secret,” a reference to the ubiquitous phenomenon of black-on-black crime, which those same black politicians rarely mention.
Lee Brown, police commissioner under David Dinkins in the 1990s, was known as Out of Town Brown because he was rarely around. Like O’Neill, he never felt comfortable in the job. During his tenure, both corruption and crime proliferated. This included the Crown Heights riots.
In light of appointing Shea, not Tucker, the mayor hinted that he will increase the number of non-white and female officers in the department’s top ranks. It’s the perfect politically correct trifecta: Rodney Harrison (black) as Chief of Department, Fausto Pichardo (Hispanic) as Chief of Patrol, and Lori Pollock (female) as Chief of Detectives.
Where would that leave current Chief of Department Monahan other than odd man out? Not that it matters. The NYPD is like Old Man River. It just keeps on rolling.
Copyright © 2019 Leonard Levitt